Adolescence is a good subject for the same reason it’s a bad subject: It’s basically the same for everyone.
Take, for example, the adolescence of Eli (Seth Numrich) in Daniel Talbott’s Slipping. Gay, fatherless, brilliant, and borderline suicidal, Eli is categorically “different.” Nevertheless, growing up in Iowa, he still encounters the same teenage problems as everyone else: His mother Jan (Meg Gibson), and by extension the adult world, is a disappointment; his closeted boyfriend Jake (MacLeod Andrews) might be too dumb to “get” him; he is controlled by forces—hormonal and otherwise—he cannot understand. In other words, he’s 17.
Emotionally, intellectually, Eli is not equipped to master these problems—what kind of teenager is? What he has going for him—and what Slipping has going for it—is raw energy.
Not much happens in Slipping by way of plot—Eli publicly outs Jake and is forgiven, he fights with his mother a lot, Iowa is criticized. But by the end, we still feel like we’ve weathered something. The big boy actors stomp around the stage; pieces of the set aren’t moved so much as thrown; the music is loud. Talbott’s script pummels through action with all the force and awkwardness of a JV linebacker. Under Kirsten Kelly’s direction, the whole production just attacks its material.
If subtlety is lost in Slipping‘s kind of embarrassingly obvious soundtrack and at times self-serious tone, that might not be a problem. Emotionally, intellectually, adolescence is not a particularly subtle period. It is violent. You endure it as best you can until you start slipping, more or less accidentally, into adulthood. So, even when Eli winds up in a hospital bed at the play’s end, we can’t help but feel assured—despite himself, the kid’s going to be alright. Right?