Even the blackest storm clouds can have a silver lining of hope and amid the dark tempestuous drama a gleaming beacon of light pierces this tragic story as Iron Crow Theatre Company presents a Baltimore area of premier of Daniel Talbott’s Slipping. Directed by Steven J. Satta, this brilliantly composed tale is a true love story of our time; set against violent and jagged emotions with bursts of beauty and hope punctuating every moment. An angst-ridden teenager struggles with overwhelming grief and detachment after being forced to move from San Francisco to Iowa following the death of his father. Being lost in the tumultuous wave of accepting himself and accepting the circumstances, the attention of another boy may be the life preserver he so desperately needs while at the same time pulling him under. A stunning piece of theatre that captures the essence of adolescent love in its prime, flushed against the harsh reality of loss and coping; destined to bring tears to your eyes and open your mind and soul to new ways of understanding one’s individual place in the bigger picture.
Set Designer Daniel Ettinger creates an environment that allows for maximum use of the stage space. There are levels etched into Ettinger’s design; a high scaffolding for scenes that take place up on the roof, elevated platforms to delineate an upstairs bedroom from the rest of the house. The audience is never too far away from the action — an invitation to the private world of the show, even the car movie theatre scenes, marked by two simple chairs, are placed far downstage bringing an intimate feel to everything that unfolds. Ettinger keeps the color scheme darker but not abysmal, urban without feeling rough, letting the personality of the individual characters speak to the world they inhabit.
Directed Steven J. Satta incorporates a series of choices into this riveting work that really make the story pop. Twining the stagehands subtly into moments of the story makes the performance feel less like a performance and more as if we’re actually watching someone’s real story unravel before our eyes. The little attitudes presented by these two stagehands as they hand off props and costume pieces, as well as push the main character in and out of certain scenes brings a sharp sense of heightened reality to the production. Satta, working with Lighting Designer Jay Herzog, creates a stunning effect for Eli’s monologue moments. The character is moved off to one side in front of a microphone and begins pouring his heart out as the stage flushes in red, only a tight white spotlight framing the speaker’s face. This design choice is both symbolic and intense, driving the emotions of the play that much further.
Playwright Daniel Talbott has written a gripping and emotionally moving piece of theatre that really reaches out to the audience on many levels, striking our hearts at the core as we watch his protagonist struggle just to keep his head above the emotional waves the continuously crash down upon him. Shifting easily back and forth in time, the play moves fluidly without interruption, but is punctuated with sharp moments of emotional explosions, often seen in Eli’s monologues. Talbott has a mastery of language which he presents, at times even poetically, in this play.
Even the most banal character is reinvented in this work. The mother figure of Jan (Michele Minnick) at first appears to be a static character with little depth beyond the surface; the typical sounding board for the angsty teenage son to buck heads with. But as the show unwinds itself Minnick presents the character with a much heavier gravity and emotional weight making her a multi-dimensional player that is key to understanding the true depth of Eli’s pain. Minnick is featured briefly but her words are delivered with emotional precision; her outbursts and confessions do not leave you wanting and in fact reveal layers of her personal struggle that attribute to the overall conflict of the show. Her interactions with Eli are terse at the best of times, even when she’s being friendly you can feel she’s holding back; a reserved and restrained relationship which further fuels the suffering of her son.
Chris (Christopher H. Zargarbashi) is presented as the stereotypical bullying jock who is gruff and filled with his own special blend of torment. Zargarbashi digs deep into the character’s psyche of internal conflict to deliver a stunning performance as a true antagonizing villain. Much of the hurt and suffering we see in Eli comes from the forceful nature of Chris’s role in his life. Zargarbashi transforms the character from a simple ‘bad guy’ into a deeply torn character ripe with his own conflict, but stays true to the narcissistic element, making every moment about him regardless of the situation. His moments of interaction with Eli are played out with extreme intensity and Zargarbashi is particularly vocally expressive, using tone and volume to portray anger and frustration on a frighteningly apparent level.
For every antagonistic character there is a foil and in this production it takes the form of Jake (Rich Buchanan). Playing the potential romantic interest for Eli, Buchanan’s character is at first a typical high school teenager, a little goofy and talks a big game. Above all Buchanan’s performance is genuine, be it when he’s first introduced as the friend or later when the situation begins to complicate itself with deep feelings of love and lust. The first series of interactions between Buchanan’s character and Eli are carved out with a quirky awkwardness that helps the audience develop a sense of trust and liking for Jake. Buchanan uses his eyes to best portray his emotions during more serious moments and is an overall fun performer to watch, particularly during the wild frantic moments of getting naked in a hurry with Eli.
Eli (Tanner Medding) is a complex evolving character whose story instantly becomes our own as we watch him struggle just to survive all of the grief, sorrow, loss, and overwhelming emotional changes in his life. Medding showcases a variety of emotions and is an exceptional performer, each moment changing and churning in his mind before he exposes it to the audience. There is never a dull moment even when his character is still and brooding. Medding takes the fierce emotions of his character and makes them palpable on such an intense level that it’s nearly impossible not to cry in moments of his raw anguish or to well up with anger when he is presented with such harsh pain. Medding brings a fiery soul to this character’s existence and stuns the audience in each and every moment with his emotional transcendence; a deep and moving performance that will shake you to the core.
Slipping is an enthralling piece of theatre not to be missed; a reminder that hope is out there and that it does get better.
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.