Thursday, August 20, 2009

Slipping - A Play About a Gay Teen in the Heartland

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Slipping is a great new play by Daniel Talbott.

Slipping is a stunning play by the young playwright Daniel Talbott and directed by Kristen Kelly which is for and about teens yet speaks in very human terms to all ages. It tells a contemporary story, gay and straight, that sings with truth and is filled with the kind of complexity young people find in their lives every day. It played off Broadway in the Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre recently and has left an indelible mark. It should be picked up by one of our Berkshire Companies, and soon, provided they don't pick some 30 year old actors to play the kids. Reality may suck, but it sure is essential to authenticity.

Seth Numrich and MacLeod Andrews in Slipping. Photo by Paula Court.

The new play relates the life story and complex loves of Eli (Seth Numrich) who is trying to start over again, but his past keeps cropping up. After his dad dies, Eli and his mother Jan (Meg Gibson) move from San Francisco to Iowa where he enters a new high school and connects with a baseball jock, Jake (MacLeod Andrews) and their friendship grows into something more. There are flashbacks to his earlier abusive relationship with Chris (Adam Driver) as we see the sources of Eli's self-destructive behavior and his fragile psyche. Jake and Eli cavorting naked in bed is more uplifting and spirited than embarrassing. Yes there is love here, but also homophobia, ignorance and the challenges of negotiating relationships.

The playwright explores these lives with humor and honesty, offering both helpful insights and disturbing realities for the audience to chew on. It is neither dull nor preachy, but alive and kicking, the kind of theatre that stimulates, informs and ultimately leaves you hungry for more. Talbott is a playwright, and Numrich an actor to watch for in the future, too. Numrich is well on his way, having earlier done a fine History Boys in L.A.

If you judged popular plays from the age of the actors on stage, you might come to the conclusion that there are none that are for or about young people. Yet there are some fine plays by younger playwrights out there. Some of them even tell complete stories with a beginning, a middle and an end. Slipping is proof. They just don't get done very much, even in the Berkshires, especially if they have a gay theme. As a result you don't see many young people in the audiences, unless it is High School Musical 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5. Or maybe a bunch of apprentices doing old musicals or standing around like flower pots (This season's Knickerbocker at Williamstown) or casting shadows on the wall.

The lack of focus on plays for young people - and I do not mean such safe works as Peter Pan which will make parents happy, but is about as safe a choice as can be made, or idiotic running around for pre schoolers as in Toad of Toad Hall at Shakespeare and Company, but rather genuine theatrical experiences for teenagers that speak to them, touch their soul and convince them that theatre speaks to them better than television, movies, video games, or even You Tube.

We have to think more about the audiences of the future and start presenting difficult works like this, which speak to them, but would never get by the guardians of mediocrity in our schools or educational programs in most communities. Let's take some chances, folks. Get real. Offer works that really speak to young audiences rather than underestimating them, The future of theatre depends on it.

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