GayFest Review: Slipping

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

Gay high school student Eli has just been forced to move from San Francisco to Des Moines, and he’s not happy about it. But then, he’s not happy about much. His father recently died in a car accident, the young lover he left behind in California was a self-loathing jerk, and now that they’re in Iowa, Eli’s mother Jan is already dating (and having loud relations with) a new suitor.

At first, Eli relishes the opportunity to be silent and anonymous at his new school, but his prickly exterior is amiably nudged by handsome high school athlete Jake. For whatever unfathomable reason, sexually curious Jake is charmed by Eli’s sardonic put-downs and general gloominess and the two embark on a rocky relationship.

As Eli, Calvin Atkinson successfully embodies the contentious, near-relentless negativity of a teenager suffering from depression. When we find out that Eli’s a cutter, it’s not eye-rolling melodrama but something real, an emotional state familiar either to ourselves or our loved ones. Eli is not someone you necessarily like, but he’s someone you know. Atkinson’s performance is absent of a vanity; he plays the part he’s been dealt, and if you want to grab his Eli by the shoulders and shake some sense into him, that means the actor is doing his job.

Eli’s romantic interest, Jake, is something of a cipher, a stand-in for the impossible straight crush object of gay male fantasies. He’s attractive, charismatic, patient, and head-over-heels in love with Eli. The part is written as a somewhat one-dimensional approach to an young individual whose sexuality is emerging, but actor Brian Ratcliffe imbues Jake with an authentic vulnerability that makes his thinly-explored voyage through sexuality compelling.

Nonetheless, the coming-out story has been done and done again before, so it’s a nice change of pace to meet Eli, a teen who owns his gay identity with no reservations. He’s brooding and difficult to get along with, but his refusal to put on a smiley face is as real as it gets.

It’s the final week of GayFest! Make sure to visit for showtime and venue information.

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