“Slipping” at the New Conservatory Theatre Center.

Daniel Ralbott’s new play “Slipping” is making its West Coast appearance at the New Conservatory Theatre Center running through July 1. The playwright says about the one act drama “a play about loss, hope and possibility and the things that crack us open and force us to reach out and become more of who we truly are”.  This is a lot for a play that last only 85 minutes and unfortunately his statement is not fully realized. 

“Slipping” is a story of 17 year old Eli (Evan Johnson) who has been transplanted from San Francisco to a small town in Iowa  where he has a deep down secret. His father has been killed in a car accident and the mother (Stacy Thunes) who is really not maternal has accepted a new teaching job in the Iowa town and so he must travel to this corn-fed town. (It sort of reminds me of the town I was raised in Western Ohio in the 30’s and early 40’s). Eli sports a turquoise Mohawk, has tattoos and a proclivity for photography rather than sports or video games. He is one trouble kid.  He is really struggling big time to cope with his new surroundings. Eli is grappling with the feeling of being an outsider—being queer, in both the traditional and contemporary sense of the word.

 Eli is the odd man out at the high school, yet is befriended by fellow student and a straight, almost impossibly affable star athletic Jake(Benjamin T. Ismail). (JAKE: Why do you dye your hair that color?/Eli: Because I like to/JAKE: I mean, it doesn’t look dumb. I was just wondering…Do you play sports?/ELI: Do I look like I play sports?) As their relationship warms up to something sexual Eli is still haunted by the memory of Chris (Fernando Navales), his brooding closeted ex in California.
“Slipping” is written in many separate scenes going back and forth with his unsatisfied life with the brutal Chris in San Francisco and becoming more like a heartless Chris with his life with Jake. This works well on film but it is slightly distracting onstage. Director Andrew Nance manages to keep the action moving through all of the quick changes of locale with the help of projections by Ron Gasparinetti.  One does get the impression of an autobiographical portrait written by an author who doesn’t quite understand his dark side.
Evan Johnson’s overly belligerent portrayal of Eli is creditable especially in his scenes with Benjamin T. Ismail. He seems a mite too old for a 17 year boy even though he says he feels like a 49 year old hooker in the body of a 17 year old boy. Benjamin T.Ismail gives a wonderful performance as Jake. He successfully portrays an endearingly awkward teenager experiencing his first gay involvement.

Fernando Navales  gives an interesting performance as the homophobia Chris although on the night we saw it he was not projecting in some scenes.  However in several scenes he is excellent when constantly belittling and threatening his lover Eli “Every time I see you a school I want to just rip you apart” he tells Eli in one of the play’s most agonizing encounters. Stacy Thunes in a smaller role of Eli’ mother gives a thought-provoking performance.
“Slipping</i> scenes between Eli and Jake are beautifully accomplished while one could wish to see more of these scenes than the scenes between Eli and Chris.  The drama features a little nudity and a little bit of blood (fake) and on the whole seems more like a TV movie than a play.  “Slipping” runs at the New Conservatory Theatre Center, 25 Van Ness off Market, San Francisco through July 1.  For tickets call 415-861-8972.