A young man’s traumatic journey from adolescence to adulthood comes to vivid, heartbreaking, yet ultimately hopeful life in Daniel Talbott’s 2009 drama Slipping, whose Los Angeles premiere reunites its pair of New York stars under the incisive direction of its multitalented writer.

1304061-14 Seventeen-year-old Eli and his widowed mother Jan have recently relocated from San Francisco to Des Moines, Iowa, a move that rubs salt in the wounds of an already angry young man. Not only is Eli still recovering from his father’s suicide, he can’t forgive Jan for having cheated on his dad during their unhappy marriage. Add to that a teen romance gone sour that has transformed Eli into the carbon copy of his abusive on-again, off-again San Francisco boyfriend, and you have the recipe for one pissed-off, unhappy teen.

Following an opening scene set in present-day Manhattan, one in which Eli and his Des Moines ex meet for the first time since our antihero left both Iowa and a broken-hearted Jake behind, Slipping then moves back and forth in time between San Francisco and Des Moines in a machine-gun series of brief scenes between Eli and the three individuals who have helped shape the man he is today.

In playwright Talbott’s skillful hands, the initial scene’s revelation that Eli’s self-hating San Francisco boyfriend Chris later killed himself gives added poignancy to his scenes with Eli, while Chris’s merciless taunting of an all too vulnerable Eli makes it sadly clear why the latter treats the puppy-dog sweet Jake with Chris’s brand of cruelty amidst moments of tenderness.

1304061-16 A good deal of Slipping’s impact comes from a trio of characters who inspire alternating desires to both throttle and embrace—Jan, whose infidelities give Eli ample reason to act out, yet whose all too human desires we can’t help empathizing with; Chris, painfully unable to reconcile his macho jock public life with same-sex desires he despises and fears—and cannot resist; and above all Eli, a young man with so much anger to vent that he ends up again and again hurting those who love him.

1304061-25 Much of the attention Slipping has generated since its Los Angeles premiere was announced has been excitement surrounding the L.A. intimate theater debut of Broadway’s Seth Numrich, and not unexpectedly, the young star of War Horse and the recent revival of Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy is flat-out brilliant at bringing Eli to fierce, ferocious life in a role that has him onstage virtually throughout Slipping’s lickety-split ninety minutes, Talbott’s script allowing him to exhibit a dazzling spectrum of emotions.

MacLeod Andrews is pure perfection as Jake, whose initial, self-proclaimed interest in girls vanishes almost as soon as he meets the boy of his dreams, and whose refusal to give up on the troubled Eli may just be the thing our screwed-up hero needs to straighten out his life, no pun intended.

1304061-02 As the imperfect yet entirely human Jan, a powerful Wendy vanden Heuvel never lets us forget that despite her character’s imperfections and some life choices that Eli may never come to understand, Jan’s love for her son is strong and unflagging.

Finally, making an indelible impression in his professional stage debut, UCLA senior Maxwell Hamilton is frighteningly, achingly real as the deeply conflicted Chris, whose internalized homophobia makes him do cruel, heartless things to the boy he can’t admit loving.

1304061-01 As a playwright, Talbott has created characters you want to slap and hug and then slap again, in other words, three-dimensional human beings. As a director, his insights into the characters he has written have surely informed the splendid work being done on the Lillian Theatre stage.

The play’s numerous scene changes (over thirty of them) are executed quite swiftly indeed, with musical underscoring to keep interest high, thanks to sound designer Janie Bullard. Still, there are quite a lot of scene changes, and for this reviewer at least, quite a number of scenes ended sooner than I would have wished, a tribute to the characters Talbott has created and his cast has brought to life.

1304061-15 John McDermott’s ingenious scenic design morphs into the play’s many locales with a switch of furniture and lighting, the latter by design whiz Leigh Allen, and some terrific time-and-locale-establishing projections by video and projection designer Kaitlyn Pietras. Rachel Myers has designed character-appropriate outfits for each cast member, and though all three males flash brief frontal nudity, each instance proves relevant to the story being told. Timm Carney has designed the production’s many props.

Laura Perez is production stage manager, Lorely Trinidad assistant stage manager, and Robert Corn technical director.  Slipping’s Los Angeles casting director is Mark Bennett, C.S.A. Sarah Haught is assistant director and Joe Sofranko fight director.  Producing for Rattlestick in L.A. are Addie Johnson-Talbott and Gaalan Michaelson. Jeanie Hackett is Rattlestick’s Los Angeles consultant.

Slipping marks the L.A. debut of New York’s Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, a production blessed by a collaboration between the best of East and West Coast talents. It is to be hoped that it will be far from the last Rattlestick production Angelinos have the good fortune to see.

Review update: Following Numrich’s final appearance as Eli on April 20,  the role was taken over by busy SoCal actor Wyatt Fenner, whose closing-night performance this reviewer was fortunate to catch. The multiple Scenie winner added an underlying sweetness and vulnerability to Eli that worked beautifully against the problem teen’s more off-putting moments—yet another instance of this brilliant young USC grad making a part compellingly, multi-dimensionally, heart-breakingly his own.

Note: The part of Eli was played during previews week by UCLA’s Brett Donaldson.

Lillian Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way, Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
April 14, 2013
Photos: Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging

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