BWW Reviews: Iron Crow's SLIPPING Celebrates Self-Realization and Hope

BWW-Reviews-Iron-Crows-SLIPPING-Celebrates-Self-Realization-and-Hope-20130407

Raw. Unadulterated. Unfiltered. Rich and ragged. Daniel Talbott's Slipping explores the jagged corners of adolescence--the ones that usually go unexplored or are polished smooth by the propriety of adulthood--and brings with it some light and, eventually, a good deal of hope. Unblinkingly, it faces the reality of survival, because that's what it is, in a society that still has a long way to go toward accepting queer youth, or queer anything. It unveils the deep scars, the blood and bruises, the barren wastelands of denial and disgust. But it also celebrates the tenderness of self-realization and wide-eyed discovery.

For its part, the Iron Crow Theatre Co. embraces the euphoric energy and piercing pain of Talbott's play. Never flinching, unwilling to avert its eyes, the company's interpretation is proud and courageous--and often, wickedly funny. It lends a hard-rock edge through its well-selected and sometimes surprising soundtrack, and its scenery, costuming and lighting gel beautifully to tell the story of gay high schooler Eli who has found himself isolated and unwanted in a small Iowa town after moving with his mother from San Francisco following his father's untimely death.

With shocking pink hair and a penchant for baggy jeans and punk attire, Eli makes little effort to fit into his new J. Crew environment that he describes as "Big hair, big nails, big butts." He says he feels like he's drowning and pours a cup of water over his head to prove it. In fact, Eli is hell bent on proving to those around him, including his mother, how little he approves of them and how little he cares what they think of him.

When he sheds his thick skin, it's in a harsh little circle of spotlight at a microphone stand, as if he's performing a monologue about his memories of San Francisco; of his life with his dad, to whom he was very close, much closer than to his mom; and of Chris, the boy with whom he was in love, but at the expense of his self-esteem and self-worth. He gets angry; he's poetically nostalgic; he spits fire and hate, but he's also entirely vulnerable.

When he befriends baseball player Jake--a true jock who nevertheless reveals his own inexperience and self-doubt when talking to Eli about a hetero relationship--Eli begins to feel a part of the fabric of his new hometown. But when Jake nervously indicates his true feelings for Eli, their relationship unravels, along with Eli's fragile psyche, along a rollercoaster of intense flare-ups of passion, fueled by Jake's unwillingness to proclaim his homosexuality and Eli's still-open wounds from his abusive relationship with Chris.

SlippingVery interestingly, the play jiggles the fourth wall without ever lowering it entirely: The stage hands actually interact with Eli's character, handing him props he needs and helping him dress and undress; at first, they seem to have an antagonistic relationship with him (or he with them), but as the play progresses, their interactions become increasingly tender. There's something somewhat comical about this, as there is about Eli flicking off the spotlight when his inner dialogue becomes too intense, even for him.

And this Eli, portrayed unapologetically by Tanner Medding, is all over the map emotionally. Medding takes him to the highest highs and lowest lows, unveiling the exaggerated reality of adolescence. He is incredibly adept at capturing the goofiness, awkwardness, machismo, vulnerability and the unmediated effects of the serotonin and adrenaline coursing through his high schooler as he faces some of the most significant challenges of his life.

Similarly, Rich Buchanan's Jake is entirely endearing in his openness and honesty with Eli as he examines his sexuality from a new perspective. And despite Eli's attempts to shake him off, Jake never reins in his unabashed enthusiasm nor his wide-eyed admiration. Buchanan is adept at revealing a particular innocence and determination that dissipate quickly as adulthood encroaches. He gives Medding a run for his money as the star of the show.

Michele Minnick as Eli's lonely mother, Jan, and Christopher H. Zargarbashi as Eli's self-loathing ex, Chris, round out the cast nicely, adding their own genuineness and intensity. But with subject matter this serious, there's always the risk of melodrama or self-indulgence; director Steven J. Satta keeps this even cast from ever crossing the line into triteness or farce. It's a complicated task, ensuring that action-and especially nudity-doesn't take away from the message, and Satta does a remarkable job keeping his cast passionate without being pandering.

Slipping celebrates the winning of small battles, even if the fight for acceptance is far from over. It reminds us that pushing through the pain makes way for hope and light. And it's honesty with ourselves and with each other that will get us there.

Please be aware that Slipping contains adult themes, language and nudity.

Slipping runs Wednesday-Sunday through April 13 at Baltimore Theatre Project, 45 W. Preston St. in Baltimore. Iron Crow Theatre Co.'s next production, Act a Lady, begins May 25. For more information, visit www.ironcrowtheatre.com.

Photos courtesy of Iron Crow Theatre Co.



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