‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ from Kickshaw Theatre
ANN ARBOR—Cut a vein and bleed onto the page. That’s advice that experienced authors often give for writing something honest and powerful.
That was obviously the intent of playwright Rajiv Joseph’s 80-minute, one-act play Gruesome Playground Injuries, Kickshaw Theatre’s new show, which runs weekends April 14 to 29 at trustArt Studios (7885 Jackson Rd.) in Ann Arbor.
The show tells the love story of two made-for-each-other masochists in episodes–over 30 years–of bodily woundedness that also suggest harder to heal emotional scars.
Kayleen is a secret cutter whose stomach is perpetually upset – probably because her mother has abandoned her and her father berates her. Doug is a daredevil who lives for thrills, and for Kayleen’s soothing attention. They meet in the school nurse’s office after Kayleen has vomited blood and Doug has just ridden his bicycle off the school roof. (“I’m not dumb; I’m brave,” he assures her.)
Subsequent settings include a hospital emergency room, a psychiatric treatment center, and a funeral parlor. We see Kayleen hooking up with abusive men and numbing emotional pain with alcohol and by self-inflicting pain. Reckless Doug loses an eye, a tooth, and the ability to walk.
They comfort each other by tenderly asking, “Does it hurt?” but don’t want to examine hurts that aren’t skin deep.
Dani Cochrane and Michael Lopetrone turn in superb performances as Kayleen and Doug. They eclipse a high bar in convincingly acting their characters over a 30-year period without leaving the stage.
Like magicians, they pull off eight costume and scene changes with multi-purpose cubes right in front of the audience in an intimate performance space without slowing the show’s pace. Lighting and sound designers Rita Girardi, Lynn Lammers and Aral Gribble helped create the illusion.
Director Lynn Lammers, cast and crew have done their jobs well. It is the script of Gruesome Playground Injuries that doesn’t ultimately get us to care about this friendship based on agony.
The elements for an intimacy that grows are present. Kayleen and Doug feel safe enough with each other reveal vulnerabilities. They draw emotional support from each other. They have fun together (if you accept that competitive vomiting can be a good time).
The emotional climax of the play comes when Doug recalls telling off Kayleen’s abusive father – something his friend never mustered the courage to do. The chronology of the story is shuffled so the play would build to that point – yet it’s not satisfying. The long-time friends aren’t compelled into becoming a couple – at least not then.
Playwright Joseph hasn’t achieved the “open a vein and bleed” caliber of great writing in this play, but it is blood-spattered for sure.