'Slipping' Explores Self-Hate, Homophobia, and Acceptance at Lillian Theatre

Daniel Talbott's coming-of-age drama, Slipping, brings the madness of adolescent angst to the stage at Lillian Theatre by way of Rattlestick Playwrights Theater. Serving as both playwright and director, Talbott highlights the struggle of a self-loathing teenager, Eli, to accept the love of those around him. While touching upon the complexities of self-hate, acceptance, and loss, the process of emotional maturation is heavily explored through the eyes of troubled teenage boys coping with a lingering shadow of homophobia. Although not perfect, Slipping is a engaging production that offers excellent performances and dynamic staging.

Slipping is a bit of a mixed bag in terms of what it brings to audiences, although the net outcome is surely a positive one. The New York Times rightly described Slipping as a "Gay Rebel Without a Cause" story following its New York premier, as it accurately captures the confusion-driven teenage mindset. Talbott's main character, Eli, is the epitome of an emo stereotype (which has passed into the realm of cliche at this point) and starts to feel redundant mid-play. Conversely, when matched with his friends Jake and Chris, Eli is an accessible vehicle that reminds us of the immense pressure gay and questioning teens face.

The script is full of tactfully wrought dialogue and truly beautiful moments filtered through an intriguing non-linear timeline which is very enjoyable, but at the same time, suffers constant scene breaks. The director wrongly assumes that this major flaw can be masked by injecting much-loved music during set changes. This reviewer wonders if the script was originally a television script complete with calculated commercial breaks; and if so, feels a tinge of resentment at the thought of being duped into watching TV, when she really just wants the living loveliness of a stage play.

The talented cast of Slipping provides exceptional performances. Seth Numrich is impassioned and stirring as lead Eli, although he will be leaving the cast after April 20 for a production at the Old Vic in London. Wyatt Fenner will be taking the helm as Eli for all remaining productions. MacLeod Andrews is utterly charming as Eli's best friend and boyfriend, Jake. Andrews is a shining, uplifting catalyst that poignantly walks a subtle line between optimism and naivete, often providing gentle relief from the scripted violence and anger that dominates much of the work. Maxwell Hamilton plays antagonist Chris, a jock and Eli's closeted lover. Hamilton is outstanding in the role, filling it with emotional strata and internal conflict, at once heated and sadly pained. As Eli's mother, Jan, Wendy Vanden Heuvel brings a feminine, empowered, balancing element to the production through her astutely realistic portrayal of a widow, mother, and rising academic.

Talbott's direction and staging elements are highly styled, very calculated, and imbued with metaphor. The production resounds with young hormonal rage mixed with moments of sheer sweetness and affection for the work. The numerous scene cuts are very tiring and demand script reworking, but being treated to the lusciousness of a complex first-love story, is worth the price of admission.

Slipping is playing at Lillian Theatre through May 5. Tickets ($34) are available online or via phone at 800-838-3006.