If the fragile persistence of memory was a good enough theme for Surrealist paintings, it's equally serviceable for the surrealistically tinged "Slide," an edgy, atmospheric new work from the Wilton Project presented at the 24th Street Theatre.
Laurie Lathem's dark comedy centers around Kate (Leslie Hope), an attractive loner afflicted with amnesia. Her condition leaves her with only "lists of facts" rather than the continuity of a personal memory--she even has to carry directions to find her way home each day. Drifting through life in a state she likens to Zen detachment, she holds a perpetually transitional job, dismantling failed companies and selling off their assets.
As a trained professional, Kate knows a wreck when she sees one--and on this particular afternoon she spots a prime specimen in Dmitri (Barry Del Sherman), the recovering alcoholic swim instructor at a Burbank public swimming pool. "I like a man who's hit rock-bottom," she says, and this auspicious opening launches their torrid encounter.
Meanwhile, Phil (Robert Fieldsteel), the date she's stood up, waits in exasperation outside Kate's Santa Monica beach house, enduring and finally succumbing to the flirtatious taunts of Kate's brassy best friend Molly (Elizabeth Ruscio).
The action pingpongs between the two locales, ingeniously realized through John H. Binkley's set, in which a diagonally bisecting stretch of water serves as the beach house shore on one side and the swimming pool edge on the other (it also represents the fluid boundaries that envelop the characters' experiences). Special mention is also due John Zalewski's effectively ambient sound engineering.
Under Charlie Stratton's focused direction, a uniformly strong cast sustains interest and intrigue through the deliberately, and at times self-consciously, inscrutable behavior of Lathem's characters and their parallel amorous escapades. While the emotional extremes in Hope's seductively troubled Kate are an understandable consequence of her condition, there's no plausible trigger for Dmitri's quirky, mean-spirited outburst, nor his equally surprising concern for the consequences.
Only Phil behaves within the range of predictable normality, and Fieldsteel invests him with downtrodden sympathy--yet we learn less about his history than any other character except for the peripheral drug dealer (Benny S. Cannon) who happens by to offer wry, dismissive commentary on these loons.
Ruscio's Molly, on the other hand, is a masterpiece of comic eccentricity, a wellspring of unfiltered immediacy who voices the play's most memorable lines--an achievement in itself in a play about amnesia.
"Slide," 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th St., Los Angeles. Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 7 p.m. Dark July 4. Ends July 26. $15. (213) 660-TKTS. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes.