Wednesday, February 9, 2011

3 Decades of 'Gruesome Playground Injuries'

Pablo Schrieber, left, in “Gruesome Playground Injuries.” Photos by Joan Marcus.


IN Rajiv Joseph’s “Gruesome Playground Injuries,”
the hurt is perpetually horrendous and generally self-inflicted.

“Gruesome Playground Injuries” is an odd love story. Doug (Pablo Schreiber) cherishes Kayleen (Jennifer Carpenter) from the first moment they meet. “Ew gross,” Kayleen says to Dougie at that first meeting in the school nurse’s office as much with fascination as disgust.

Doug and Kayleen continue to meet over a period of 30 years in various emergency rooms. Each scene in this one act play, at Second Stage Theatre until 20 Feb., is introduced on a screen above the stage mostly by the injuries that Doug has suffered. At 13, it’s the Limbo, at 23 a firecracker and at 28 a coma. Throughout, he is protective of Kayleen. Doug’s genuine affection for Kayleen is as constant as the accidents that befall him.

Unfortunately, for all its interesting nuances, “Gruesome Playground Injuries” is more a novelty act than a play. It’s hard to understand why these two are such lost souls or what could be done to mend them. It is near impossible to see what motivated them to a life of self-destruction.

When Dougie first enters the stage, PS perfects the cadences of an 8-year old daredevil, proud of having slid off the roof of the school. He is brilliant over the span of three decades during which Doug is continually wounded, usually by his own actions.

Pablo Schreiber and Jennifer Carpenter in “Gruesome Playground Injuries.”

JC is alternately hardened and vulnerable, at first a damaged girl then a damaged woman. Kayleen’s hurts are smaller, more psychological than Doug’s but also self-inflected and certainly as real as his. At 8, she has stomachaches, at 13 she throws up. Eventually, she takes to cutting herself and takes up with men unworthy of her whom Doug can’t stand. Like Kayleen, Doug is lost to himself.

Although the acting is riveting and the subject matter unusual and interesting, the best thing about “Gruesome Playground Injuries” is the clever set by designer Neil Patel. “Gruesome Playground Injuries” is staged on a platform of stacked translucent boxes filled with water. On either side of the stark set is a wall of drawers from which the actors pull costumes for on-stage costume changes. Besides the auditorium seating, there are several rows of seats embracing the set from behind the stage.

“Gruesome Playground Injuries” is RJ’s second play to premiere at Second Stage Theatre. His next production, “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” is heading for Broadway with no less a name than Robin Williams in the cast.

Visit to learn more about “Gruesome Playground Injuries.”

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