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Theater: Slipping
by Scott C. Morgan

Images for this article: (click on the thumbnail to see fullsize)

Slipping. Photo by Scott Cooper/Archetype Images. Playwright: Daniel Talbott . At: The Side Project Theatre, 1439 W. Jarvis . Phone: 773-973-2150; $12-$15 . Runs through: Feb. 27

Anyone prurient enough to be disappointed by the missing male nudity in About Face Theatre's The Little Dog Laughed should be pleased to know that they can get their fill in Slipping at The Side Project Theatre.

Yet the nudity involved in this world premiere by Daniel Talbott comes off as more unsettling than sexy. A jolly nudie revue like Barenaked Lads this certainly is not.

Slipping focuses on Eli ( Nate Santana ) , a troubled gay teen who moves from San Francisco to Iowa for a fresh start with his distant mother, Jan ( Rose Buckner ) . With his green-dyed hair and defeatist sarcasm, Eli alienates most of his classmates, save for Jake ( Daniel Caffrey ) , the earnest shortstop on the school's baseball team.

Jake takes a shine to him, even though Eli jerks him around emotionally and spouts a few likely lies about his past. Playwright Talbott fills in the blanks by providing curt flashbacks showing Eli's confusing ( and possibly first-time ) relationship with a handsome and homophobic older jock named Chris ( Adrian Gonzalez ) . Talbott also gradually reveals unsettling details behind Eli's father's recent death.

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Whether these troubling family and romantic relationship revelations justify Eli's need for suicidal self mutilation in the plot isn't always convincing in Slipping. Talbott's stop-and-start paced play doesn't completely spell things out, which is both intriguing and annoying depending upon your personal take.

Eli's defeatist wallowing and self-destructive angst can easily frustrate an audience. But in terms of honestly depicting an annoyingly morbid teenager, Talbott is spot-on.

It also helps to have such a committed and honest performance by Santana as Eli. With his ever-present scowl and slumped posture, he embodies Eli with an emotional accuracy that makes you simultaneously want to hug him or shake him to snap out of his funk.

Caffrey makes for a resilient and sometimes laughable Jake, whose Midwesterner wholesomeness makes for an amusing contrast to Eli's sullen nature. Buckner is appropriately emotionally distant as mother Jan ( though she could be a bit more visually pained about her broken family ) . Gonzalez does what he can with his underwritten and none-too-pleasant jock character.

In the intimate space of The Side Project, director Adam Webster keeps things nicely focused with help by lighting designer Jeremy Getz.

While Slipping could be passed off as another troubled teen drama, it's nice that its main character isn't at all depressed about being gay but due to family and romantic circumstances. Slipping certainly isn't for all tastes ( even with the nudity perks ) , but it certainly paints an honest picture of an angst-filled gay teenager struggling to make emotional sense of his personal losses.

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