This young man is about to be killed by a security guard’s carelessness. PAUL BESTOCK

Nobody knows how many African Americans were shot by police officers in 1962, the year a white security guard shoots a black teenager in Slip/Shot. As many reporters noted after the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, we can't even keep track of how many people—regardless of their ethnicity—are killed by police officers now. In 1994, Congress insisted that the attorney general "acquire data about the use of excessive force by law enforcement officers" (including a record of police homicides) and publish an annual summary. It never happened.

That would come as no surprise to Miz Athey, whose son is killed in Slip/Shot. "You think all this, laws passed like ticker tape, they mean somethin'?" she says grimly to the young man's grieving girlfriend. "Civil rights can't stop blood or bullets. What's it gonna do for you now?" Her devastating question still stands. Slip/Shot began rehearsals for its 2012 Philadelphia premiere just a few weeks after Travyon Martin was shot in Florida. Rehearsals for this Seattle production, directed by Kelly Kitchens, began a few weeks after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson.

Slip/Shot is written with kitchen-sink realism—except for one brief and strange scene during a hurricane that seems airlifted from a magical-realist novel—and it's more concerned with character sketches than action. Clem (Quinn Armstrong) is a white, newlywed security guard who's trying to act grown up and distance himself from his overtly racist father, but hasn't quite succeeded yet. Monroe (Treavor Boykin) is black, college-bound, and also trying to grow up. In one of Slip/Shot's tender opening moments, he cockily prepares a picnic for his girlfriend and playfully sasses his mother, Miz Athey (Faith Russell)—but is reduced to panicked pleading for her help when he realizes it's later than he thinks. "How you put a hot pie in a basket?" he yelps. "Where the gravy go? It makes no sense!" A trace of maternal smugness plays around Miz Athey's smile as she helps him, gratified to see the young man put back in his place.

On Monroe's way home, he takes a fatal shortcut past a hospital where Clem is working the night shift, amusing himself by pretending to draw his gun on make-believe bad guys. After a smiling but tense exchange ("This is a whites-only hospital," Clem says; "This isn't a whites-only sidewalk," Monroe replies), Monroe starts to leave, then turns back to say something. Startled, Clem shoots and kills Monroe.

The bulk of Slip/Shot is a fluid oscillation between two kitchens—Clem's and Miz Athey's—as both families try to deal with the emotional fallout of the accident. Clem becomes increasingly paranoid, sealing himself and his newly pregnant wife Kitty (Jocelyn Maher) away from the world. Miz Athey's grief and anger get a jolt when she learns that Monroe's girlfriend, Euphrasie (Marquicia Dominguez), is also pregnant, complicating her plans to go to college.

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The performances, directed by Kelly Kitchens, are unfortunately uneven. As the young guard and his new wife, Armstrong and Maher have thin chemistry from the beginning, making their slow distancing from one another significantly less dramatic than it could be. As the girlfriend, Euphrasie, Dominguez's earnest attempts at grief read as wobbly and unsure. The script has its own issues, including the incongruous hurricane scene (during which Kitty and Euphrasie give birth simultaneously) and an oddly uncomplicated emotional arc after the shooting: Writer Jacqueline Goldfinger sets the wounded family (Monroe's) on a steady road toward healing, while the injuring family (Clem's) simply festers.

Russell gives the strongest performance as Miz Athey, a tough, world-weary, but not at all callous woman who worked as a part-time librarian and raised Monroe alone after her husband died, also due to a white man's carelessness. The self-imposed isolation of Miz Athey's initial sorrow and her reemergence into the world—to help Euphrasie when her parents kick her out—show more depth and ballast than the other characters in this production. Boykin also gives a poignant and strong performance as Monroe, a gentle boy trying out the swagger of his emerging manhood. But his character disappears from the stage far too soon. recommended