There are few individuals on this Earth who enjoy watching people hurt each other more than I do, a fascination which will someday, no doubt, get me into trouble. For now, I’m in luck, as Theatre Intime opens its 2012-13 season with Rajiv Joseph’s “Gruesome Playground Injuries.” The play tells the disjointed tale of Kayleen and Doug, who meet as children in the nurse’s office and continue to be brought together by the literal and metaphorical injuries of daily life.
The play begs the questions: Why do we hurt ourselves, and why do we keep letting other people hurt us? These questions get examined as we follow Kayleen and Doug in a series of scenes, which progresses in alternating increments of 15 years forward and 10 years backward, tracking both the characters’ physical injuries and their ever-tragic love story.
The title of the play is immediately evocative. As director Laura Gates ’14 says in the director’s note, “The title conveys the competing elements of the play.” These competing elements — comedy and tragedy, healing and hurting, purity and brokenness — give the play its distinctively disturbing and “gruesome” quality.
Unfortunately, however, this production never quite gets gruesome enough. The injuries themselves just do not cut it; in a play that revolves around the literal blood drawn from its characters, I expected to see something viscerally affective. The image of a man with his eye blown out should be disturbing, but instead, that injury is portrayed by a neat bandage with a tidy bloodstain. On an emotional level, the play never shows the characters going through the process of getting injured, and it’s easy to lose interest in a play about two people that start out damaged and stay damaged throughout the performance.
The production also suffers from a few conceptual hang-ups. As called for in the script, the actors perform costume changes, including the makeup that represents their injuries, onstage. These scene transitions offer an interesting opportunity for storytelling which is ultimately unrealized in this production. I wanted something out of these moments, a deeper understanding of the characters’ journeys, their relationship to their injuries or some clue of what was happening in the 10 or 15 years between these scenes, but there just wasn’t anything to see other than two people changing their clothes. It brought the play to a screeching halt every time.
Similarly problematic are set changes, performed by two crew members. Having random bodies on the stage breaks the metatheatrical concept the play centers on — that these two characters control their whole world. In addition, the set changes themselves are about as painfully slow and haphazard as most of the injuries described in the play.
The production is aided, however, by its ever-committed duo of actors, Katherine Ortmeyer ’14 and Brad Wilson ’13, who both rightfully command moments of vulnerability and strength and showcase more than a little bit of comic flair. However, while the acting is honest moment-to-moment, there was a troubling lack of focus. For example, in one scene, Kayleen (Ortmeyer) claims to have been “hardened” by a cocktail of pills to keep her emotionally stable. Yet a few lines later, she chooses to very convincingly and aggressively scream at Doug (Wilson). While believable, this choice completely uncharges the tragic reality of her having been rendered unable to feel and makes the moment anticlimactic later in the scene when he finally gets through to her.
Honorable mentions go all around to the members of the design team. Set, lights and costumes, by Amy Gopinathan ’14, Marissa Applegate ’16 and Annika Bennett ’15, respectively, all work very cooperatively to create a dirtied elegance, accenting the duality of these sullied lives.
Ultimately, “Gruesome Playground Injuries” is worth seeing. It is a wonderful story and a truly unique and interesting piece of theater that will certainly inspire some very interesting post-show discussion or perhaps vicious sadomasochism.
3 out of 5 paws
Pros: Strong performances in a compelling script.
Cons: Scene transitions; not "gruesome" enough.
Sean Drohan is an actor, writer and director on campus. At Theater Intime, he served on the 2011-12 management board and has also directed on the Intime stage. In the spring of 2011, Drohan was featured in the thesis production “Strange Faces,” which featured Wilson.