Monday, February 11, 2013
Theater review: Gruesome Playground Injuries sets the bar high for area theater in 2013
It's well worth the drive to Denton.
DENTON Embracing a beautifully written script, director Nick Ross has brought together an exceptional cast and technical crew to examine the realities of life in this production of Gruesome Playground Injuries at the Sundown Collaborative Theatre in Denton. Despite the gruesome title, this production is a stunning look at the lives of two troubled individuals, Kayleen and Doug, as their lives influence each other through thirty years of friendship. In my opinion, for the pure art of it, this production sets the bar high for area theatre in 2013.
Arriving at the theater, it seemed an unlikely location for such a phenomenal production. The small space held a minimal set consisting of a few large wooden black boxes and two black chairs, along with the occasional white blanket. These set pieces were used to depict the furniture in a school nurse’s office, a hospital, a bedroom, a funeral parlor, a psychological institution, and an ice-skating rink. There was no credit given in the program for set design – it was well done and helped the audience focus on the well-written dialogue and superb acting for the real meaning of the story rather than being distracted by a heavily decorated set.
Costumer Cierra M. C. Lopez displayed an eye for detail as she continued the minimalist theme of the show, yet provided the audience with a deeper understanding of the characters. Of note, especially, was the clothing worn by Kayleen when visiting Doug at the hospital the night of her father’s wake, consisting of a small black dress and hose covered by mud, and that worn by her during the “blue raspberry dip” scene, consisting of a bland, gray hospital gown and dismal gray sweater. These costumes revealed the chaos and upheaval of the character without distracting from the action. During other scenes, Doug was seen sporting a Hawaiian shirt and khaki pants, a suit, and jogging attire, among other outfits suitable to the scene.
Lighting and sound design by Natalie Taylor and Richard Quadri, respectively, was very well done and in keeping with the minimalist theme. During a thunderstorm scene, the lighting effectively gave the impression of lightning. Throughout the show, appropriate music and sound effects occasionally drifted through the air, always at the right times. This mix of lighting and sound worked well towards creating a well-rounded experience, all complementing the themes of the action.
I could not be giving a complete account of the show if I did not include the set changes. The transitions between scenes were almost as important to the telling of the story as the scenes themselves. Two stage hands, dressed in black, became a part of the story. Once, they were funeral goers, trying to hug Kayleen, another, teenagers dancing at a school dance. During these transitions, their roles ranged from moving set pieces to actively changing the costumes of the actors in front of the audience. I was impressed watching the expressions on the faces of the actors as they were being dressed – the transition between the two at whatever age they had just portrayed to the age they were about to portray was visible in their faces. Their movements during this time seemed almost choreographed, yet completely natural.
In such a small space, and with such a small cast, there is abundant room for blunders to be highlighted and amplified. The evening I was in the audience was the opening night and I saw very little in the way of mistakes. This kind of setting can be daunting to a young actor, but the two playing Kayleen and Doug displayed their experience in a striking way.
As mentioned earlier, the two did a wonderful job staying in character the entire time they were on stage, which was for most of the hour and a half this show takes to complete. With no intermission, there was no break for the two to rest or regroup. Their performances never faltered.
Mikaela Krantz’ performance in the role of Kayleen was particularly adept. The show opens with the pair at the age of eight. Krantz convincingly portrayed an eight-year-old girl with a “sensitive stomach” very well, with no over-the-top, patronizing and stereotypical features. She was simply eight. As we watched the character evolve through different periods of her life, Krantz’ Kayleen remained recognizable, although very different at each stage because of her past experiences. My favorite representation of Kayleen was during a scene in the hospital where she visits the possibly brain-dead Doug, when the sheer terror in her eyes at the thought of losing her best friend was revealed through Krantz’ superb acting.
Travis Stuebing delivered a strong performance as Doug, the “accident-prone”, fun-loving guy who seems to always get hurt and need help from Kayleen. Whether depicting an eight-year-old who just rode his bike off the school roof, a hormone-full thirteen-year-old, or a broken adult, Stuebing’s portrayal was spot on. Creating a likable, yet frustrating character, Stuebing deftly drew the audience in, causing us to wonder why Doug is such a daredevil, and possibly recognizing in him a bit of our own personality. Many of his transitions were highly active, at times dancing, sometimes frozen, but always in character and adding to the total effect.
This show was a fantastic yet solemn look at life, love, and the way we all as a society tend to hurt ourselves and each other. It gave the audience an opportunity to examine themselves as they see pieces of the two characters that might be a little too familiar. Additionally, it was a wonderful opportunity to explore the art of theater – straying away from merely entertaining to a piece that demanded thought and active mental participation of its audience. This show is well worth the drive to Denton, if you are in the Dallas or Fort Worth area, and its short run requires that you make plans soon! As indicated in the playbill, this show contains adult content and strong language and is not suitable for youngsters.
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