Seattle Public Theater’s production of Slip/Shotis a sad example of a show that ought to rip your heart out, but the anticipated chemistry among audience, performers, and current events somehow fails to ignite. At a time when the killings of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are central to America’s national conversation about race, Jacqueline Goldfinger’s 2010 drama, though set in 1962, is perfectly poised to be painfully topical. What’s it about? A white cop shooting a black kid.
Goldfinger’s tale rests partly on our memory of the early martyrs of the Civil Rights movement (including Emmett Till and Medgar Evers). Yet the problem with Slip/Shot is that it holds itself at arm’s length from the very tragedy it intends to depict—the accidental killing of a young black man (Treavor Boykin) by the repentant policeman (Quinn Armstrong) who’s the son of a racist. After that grievous mistake, damage is done to families and friends on both sides, yet the cast mostly simmers when what’s needed is a rolling boil.
It’s impossible to know if such depth of emotion is beyond them, but what’s certain is that director Kelly Kitchens chills the incendiary emotions of Goldfinger’s script with the Seattle Freeze. Just as locals happily assemble to protest today’s intolerable cause du jour, then shrink from an actual argument, this production tells us that racism is tragic—rather than actually showing the profound pain such injustice wreaks.
In terms of the tech work, a very serviceable and minimalist set design by Craig Wollam cleverly addresses scene changes and makes this 90-minute drama zip by. But this show’s success rises and falls on its provocative story and characters—and somehow SPT has confused Arctic blast for the blast furnace. Seattle Public Theater at the Bathhouse, 7312 W. Green Lake Ave. N., 524-1300, seattlepublictheater.org. $15–$32. Runs Thurs.–Sat. Ends Oct. 12.