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Review – Gruesome Playground Injuries – Chester Little Theatre

RAJIV Joseph was inspired to write Gruesome Playground Injuries after hearing a friend recounting the long and random list of injuries he had sustained over the years, and thinking how they seemed to stand like milestones, marking the passage of his life. Joseph began to think about how a relationship could also maybe be measured out in a similar manner.

This two-hander, originally produced in 2009, charts the lives and friendship of Doug and Kayleen beginning at the age of 8, when they first meet in a school nurse’s office, and ending 30 years later as they stare out across an empty ice rink. But it doesn’t chart a linear path through time. In each of the play’s eight successive scenes the setting steps forward 15 years and then back 10, almost as if their lives are clawing their way up a slippery slope.

Each time we meet them Doug is nursing a new physical injury and Kayleen is suffering some form of less tangible malaise. In some way they continue to comfort and support each other, although there seems always to be a strange disconnect. There’s a kind of unrequited love story going on in which the tenderness between the two characters never quite manages to surmount the vicissitudes of life.

Among other misadventures Doug hurts his head jumping off a school roof, blows out an eye playing with a firework, gets struck by lightning and falls off a telephone pole. Meanwhile Kayleen’s list of problems explores a more internal, psychological catalogue of problems. The forward and backward steps in the narrative allow us, along with them, to reflect back on how and why these things happen to them. The largely self-inflicted injuries are simultaneously literal and symbolic, and give us pause to think about how the choices we make, whether they seem conscious or not, determine the shape of our lives and our relationships with each other.

Heather Milam and Ally Goodman deliver a pair of focused and detailed performances, finely balancing the moments of comedy in the text with its deep melancholy. The author’s stage directions suggest that all scene and costume changes should take place in full view, in many ways marking the gaps in time between scenes. Director Kelly Cowley opts to include stage-hands almost as non-speaking extras into the play during these scene changes, which both adds a further dynamic to the piece and ensures that the pace never drops.

Presented in the intimacy of Chester Little Theatre’s Salisbury Studio, this bold piece of programming leaves the actors with no place to hide, either physically or emotionally. The mesmerised stillness of the audience through the show’s continuous 75 minutes, broken only by occasional moments of laughter, is testament to the skill of performers and director alike.

 

Review by Nigel Smith

 

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