"Slide Glide the Slippery Slope," a Taper, Too production at the Ivy Substation, is an odd and busy play in which playwright Kia Corthron says a lot -- perhaps too much. Certainly, Corthron has an original dramatic voice -- grandiose yet folksy, full of the eccentric and the unexpected. Yet in "Slide Glide," she uses that voice to shout loudly about her central subjects of genetic engineering, cloning and eugenics. Thematically speaking, it's deafening. That's a shame, because when Corthron whispers small and telling truths about love and loss and family bonds, she's worth listening to.
The play's central characters, Erm (Bahni Turpin) and Elo (June A. Lomena), are identical twins separated at birth more than 36 years ago, meeting now for the first time on Erm's remote and isolated farm "in the middle of nowhere." An avid science buff, Erm is particularly fascinated by the process of cloning and has read all the cutting-edge books and periodicals on that and other new scientific advances. Elo, an emotional wreck after the death of her daughter in a car crash two years ago, pays an unexpected visit, much to the misanthropic Erm's initial irritation. Shortly after her arrival, Elo drops a bombshell: She intends to clone her dead child.
If you were in doubt about the play's central subject, a lifelike stuffed sheep -- supposedly the famous, ill-fated Dolly -- is positioned over Rachel Hauck's stark and antiseptic set, which looks more like an operating theater than a farmhouse. And if you were in further doubt, Erm spends the first chunk of the play chatting cozily with her barnyard animals about cloning -- an opportunity for slipping in some basic information about the procedure.
That kind of bald exposition is a frequent shortcoming. Textbook stories about identical twins separated at birth are rattled off in an obligatory manner, and characters say things like "You know the story, right?" -- then tell the story anyway. More annoyingly, Corthron often twists her plot into unnatural shapes for pure dramatic effect. At one point, Elo, who is bitterly separated from her husband, gets a mysterious telephone call and announces rapturously, "I'm pregnant!" A scene later, she is miscarrying, a suspiciously timed misfortune that seems emotionally manipulative.
In the second act, the prolix scientific jargon gives way to more natural and moving interaction. The cast, which includes Daniel Bryant, Juanita Jennings and Khanya Mkhize, tackles Corthron's challenging language with energy and high style. Of the performers, Veralyn Jones is the most effectively naturalistic as Erm's adoptive sister, a sickle-cell sufferer who has a devastating stroke. Valerie Curtis-Newton's staging is spirited and brisk, but the dialogue, on opening night at least, was so rushed that it was frequently incomprehensible. These actors need to take deep breaths and enunciate. Flawed though this play may be, it deserves to be heard.
'Slide Glide the Slippery Slope'
Where: Taper, Too at the Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City
When: Tuesdays-Sundays, 8 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday matinees, 2 p.m.
Ends: June 22
Contact: (213) 628-2772
Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes