Gruesome Playground Injuries, directed by Jackson Byrne, explores the dysfunctional relationship between two best friends and their pain. We see Kayleen and Doug in increments of five years, from eight to 38, but out of order. They jump forwards and backwards by as much as fifteen years, uncovering the various injuries sustained throughout their lives and the deeper lasting effects beyond simple scar tissue.
The opening scene encapsulated the rest of the play. Lucy Campbell as Kayleen opened the show with a truly fantastic and worrying portrayal of an eight-year-old girl. Both Campbell and John Last, as Doug, were wholly earnest in their performances. This gave the disturbing nature of the relationship the honesty necessary to make a believable connection between the two characters through the rest of the play. However, the first gruesome injury did not hold up in a theatre space where the audience is within 10 feet of the prosthetic. This trend of great scenes punctuated with elements that fell slightly short of the mark continued throughout the show.
Though the acting was predominantly strong throughout, there were instances in almost every scene where handfuls of lines were delivered in a jarringly wooden fashion. This seemed to stem from a script that did not measure up to the themes and plot driving it rather than from the actors’ skill. However, it did hamper the atmosphere the director, cast and production team were creating.
The chemistry between the actors remained unaffected and carried the play through the script’s dicey spots. Campbell and Last seemed to shift effortlessly from touching, if strange, moments to hurling insults and back again. They’ve created a beautiful, complicated friendship and altered it accordingly throughout the thirty years shown in the play. The relationship had a different quality in each scene, matching the length of time they have been friends, but the actors were also able to preserve the essence of their friendship.
A simple set of black tables and chairs provided a malleable background for the jumpy plot, allowing the audience’s imagination to fill in the details and creating smooth changeovers between locations.
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The transitions between scenes almost became small scenes in and of themselves. Beyond simply being a novel way to stage a play, they aided in bringing cohesion to a slightly confusing order of events. More importantly, the action of these transitions provided a further layer of insight into the actual, plot-driven scenes by speaking to the overarching theme of self-harm Byrne and his team explored.
Gruesome Playground Injuries continues its run through Saturday, Dec. 1. All performances are at 8 p.m. in the Pit.