AN APPEALING PRODUCTION OF RAJIV JOSEPH’S “GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES”
An Appealing Production of Rajiv Joseph’s “Gruesome Playground Injuries”
Richard Rating: (4 stars)
Tide Theatre one of our better up and coming theatre companies is currently presenting an engaging production of Rajiv Joseph’s romantic comedy “Gruesome Playground Injuries” through November 9th. This 85 minute production is a series of vignettes that hopscotch back and forth across time. Although not as popular as his play “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”, a 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner, “Gruesome” has enjoyed success with both critics and audiences at productions around the country after its world premiere at the Alley Theatre in Houston.
“Gruesome Playground Injuries” sounds like a horror story but it is not. It really is a smart romantic comedy about two friends who spend 30 years of their lives clutching at a dwindling friendship as they reunite in emergency rooms and psychiatric wards after long periods of separation. The two wonderful actors Cary Chonholm Rose and Wylie Herman morph beautifully from characters age 8 ( a vignette called “Face Split Open”) to age 38( a vignette called “Zamboni”) in a series of eight pieces.
In the piece called “Face Split Open” they meet in the nurse’s office of their Catholic grade school. The boy Doug had attempted to ride his bike off the school roof to show his machismo. She was there for some sort of stomach malady. In their first encounter they try to one-up each other’s exploits with war stories about injuries and physical ailments. The scene ends with Kayleen cleaning the rocks out of Doug’s bruised hands and their friendship is sealed.
The brief scenes from then on discloses around their respective affinities for accidents. We find out that Doug is unmindful to danger and you could say a bit of a masochist since he repeatedly ends up in school nurses’ offices and intensive care units. Kayleen is more inclined to more psychic distress, revealed in her neurotic episodes of pill popping and self-mutilation. Just as the audience starts to tire of Doug’s bad luck and Kayleen hindrances, the playwright nonlinear script changes its direction, revealing how much Kayleen needed Doug’s support and revealing her less evident, but arguably more agonizing, passionate wounds.
Cary Chonholm Rose is razor sharp in the difficult character role. She portrays Kayleen from a profoundly damaged little girl who grows up into an equally damaged woman. The audience really feels sympathy for this person. Wylie Herman is perfectly charming as Doug. He infuses the character with a sweaty boyishness reminiscent of Tom Hank’s “Big”. He brings an intense lust for life to the character.
Jennifer Welch’s direction never allows for a dull moment engaging the audience in the many-layers story that spans three decades. Her direction counterpoises the story’s brutality by focusing less on masochism and drawing attention to the exasperated connection between the two characters.
“Gruesome Playground Injuries” runs through November 9th at the Tides Theatre, 533 Sutter Street, 2nd floor, San Francisco. Tor tickets call 415-399-1322 or on line at www.tidestheatre.org