ST. PETERSBURG — Slipping has the angst of many plays about teenagers. A sullen high school student named Eli is having trouble adjusting to his new life in the blandness of suburban Des Moines, Iowa, where he has been exiled from one of the capitals of cool, the San Francisco Bay area. And there are more heavy emotional matters at work, too, with the recent death of his father. Eli's mother, a college professor, is making a fresh start and seeing other men, even bringing some of them home for sex, much to her son's displeasure.
What makes Daniel Talbott's play different, though, is that Eli is openly gay, and his sexuality is handled in a relatively matter-of-fact manner in the production at the [email protected], directed by Bob Devin Jones. In the leading role, Drew Smith is convincing as a tormented gay teen in a time when coming out is more understood, if no less hard, than it used to be. Incorporating music by the Smiths, Linkin Park, the Velvet Underground and other edgy rockers, this is a grunge version of gay youth, compared with the freshfaced kids from Glee.
To be a teenage boy is to be obsessed with sex, and Slipping gets that right. What also feels true are Eli's awkward physical relationships with his boyfriends, Chris, a closeted, abusive soccer player in California, played by Vincent Stalba in flashback scenes, and Jake (Ian Gabriel Gonzalez-Muentener), a high school shortstop in Iowa. A constant rough and tumble jostling goes on between these inarticulate guys, breaking into violence at times. Bonnie Agan combines nurturing and feisty independence as Eli's mom.
Structurally, Talbott's play is broken into brief, often cryptic scenes — Eli and Jake's first encounter consists of six lines — that give the narrative a herky-jerky quality. More than 30 scene changes slow down the momentum in the studio's rudimentary staging.
Slipping is not for every theatergoer. It has nudity, graphic language and an extremely dirty joke about Martha Stewart.
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.