Friday, October 10, 2014

Excellent acting in "Slip/Shot" overshadowed by technical shortcomings and disappointing script

Treavor Boykin and Faith Russell in Slip/Shot (PaulBestock)

Slip/Shot
Through October 12, 2014

(As printed in Seattle Gay News)

Seattle Public Theater often combines great technical design (especially for a mid-sized theater) and challenging and well-done productions. Some of the best in town. It’s easy to see why they might choose to do the play Slip/Shot by Jacqueline Goldfinger: A security guard shoots an unarmed African-American teen and claims it is an accident. It sounds like it would be an extremely topical and challenging play.

Though written around 2012, Goldfinger sets the action in 1960s small town southern America. Some dialogue is poetic, some sociologically relevant (women were expected to stay home and take care of their husbands), and the script probably reads well. Unfortunately, it disappoints.

However, the production at SPT is well-cast with excellent actors, with not a false acting note among them.
 Goldfinger establishes a white security guard Clem, young and untried, with an uncomfortable macho attitude (Quinn Armstrong) and his new wife, Kitty (Jocelyn Maher). She introduces Miz. Athey (Faith Russell) , a librarian and single mother of a 17-year-old boy, Monroe (Treavor Boykin) and his girlfriend, Euphrasie (Marquicia Dominguez). Clem is mishandling his gun during his watch and fires it accidentally at Monroe. So, we know from the start that it really is an accident.

(That premise is quite different from the current circumstances of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. Neither of those teens was accidentally shot. Goldfinger’s script does not evoke, then, current and unjustified shootings.)

Clem has a father who is clearly racist, though we never meet him, and Clem wants to distance himself from the legacy of his father, and the shooting seems to make him feel like he’s accidentally done something his father would condone. However, that theme – wanting to disassociate from parents – is not fleshed out in any significant or informative way.

The librarian seems grieved that her son is dead, but reacts with hostility to Euphrasie voicing outrage over the death. This seems overly conciliatory to the social order, even for a compliant 1960s. The town sheriff (Roy Stanton) tells Clem and Kitty to lock themselves at home in case a reactive black community becomes threatening, yet no further development of that plot occurs, either.

Goldfinger’s script calls for a single kitchen set which is used by both the white couple and the African­American woman and her family to represent their respective kitchens. The door that moves into and away from view on the left side of the stage is the entrance to the African­American family’s
kitchen and the door that moves into and away from view on the right side of the stage is the entrance to the white couple’s kitchen. The technical effort of having two very, very slow moving kitchen doors exchange sides (mechanically moving into and away from the set) is lugubrious in the extreme and hampers this production.

There are so many topics the script could have tackled just from the structure Goldfinger created: black/white relationships in the 1960s (the play does not help us understand that), the legacy of the parent/child relationship, law enforcement in the 1960s, women’s roles in the 1960s, small town biases, what forgiveness looks like and whether it is possible in this situation, the list goes on. Goldfinger does not shed any light on these.

Again, the acting was fine, including Trevor Cushman as a guard friend of Clem’s who seems to be in love with Kitty. The set design was fine (designed by Craig Wollam), the costumes (Chelsea Cook) and sound (Andre Nelson and Evan Mosher) and lighting (Paul Arnold) were fine. In the main, the directing (Kelly Kitchens) was fine, though some directing choices seem to have emphasized empty lengths of time. So, the main disapointment must be a script appearing to be better on the page than on the stage.

For more information, go to www.seattlepublictheater.org or call 206-524-1300.