Thursday, June 27, 2013
Theater review: Gruesome Playground Injuries depicts the realist’s version of love
Not all beginnings have happy endings.
DALLAS It has been a long time since I have seen something as electrifying, wrenching, brilliant, and melancholy as Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, in its last week at Second Thought Theater, Bryant Hall, just a stone’s throw from the Kalita Humphreys. Half expecting a variation on God of Carnage, I was intrigued to discover instead, the story of Kayleen and Doug, best friends who meet at the age of eight in the infirmary of a private Catholic school. We soon learn that Doug is accident prone (and insanely fearless) while Kayleen has issues of her own. Gruesome proceeds to document key intersections in their lives, hopping back and forth from eight to 18 to 23 to 13 … I may not have the sequence right, but you get the idea. There is a ritualism to each encounter. Both actors, Jessica Renee Russell and Montgomery Sutton, go to their separate dressing tables (with cracked mirrors), change costume and makeup for the next scene, make eye contact across the chasm between them, then with grim resignation, assist each other in the next scene change.
To say Gruesome Playground Injuries takes a curious approach to the unfulfilled romance of Doug and Kayleen is like describing the Hindenburg as a mishap. They seem truly destined to be lovers, but that scenario is never quite realized. Many playwrights focus on the sweet and extravagant aspects of intense, life-changing love, but Joseph seems obsessed with the queasy, terrifying, miserable, and frustrating exchanges that never make it to the stage. Usually it’s the woman who's starry-eyed and gaga, but here it's Douglas, who suffers one ordeal after another in pursuit of the cynical, hesitant Kayleen. She calls him “freak” and “stupid” and she’s not necessarily wrong. Doesn’t love bring out those choices in all of us? Doug is convinced she has miraculous healing powers (at least in his life) and she’s scared to death that he just might be right. She can barely manage her own catastrophes, how could she possibly take on the responsibility of Doug's?
Sutton and Russell rise to the demands of this perverse script with courage and compliance. They dive headlong into the volcano. It’s like a tumultuous sacrament, though not toxic, like Shepard’s Fool for Love or Albee's Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Joseph sets these two people up for blinding, excruciating near misses, like an prolonged version of the “it feels so good when I stop” gag. He explores that heightened, loopy, balance-shattering state of mind in which our compass goes missing and every choice feels inevitable and wrong. This being said, the warmth, tenderness and adoration, the grace comes through. Though it feels like they’re trying to kiss in a blizzard. An early scene where the banged-up, inebriated Doug tries to get Kayleen to dance with him, is a virtual journey into raw, ironic bliss and despair. It broke my heart. How often do we get to see the complicated, jagged, sublime curse of love with such vivid accuracy? Once again, Second Thought Theater (and the remarkable Montgomery and Jessica) have dragged us into the voluptuously authentic dream world of unbuffered life. Don’t miss this.
Second Thought Theater presents Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, playing June 6-29, 2013. 3636 Turtle Creek Boulevard, Dallas, Texas 75219. Bryant Hall. Across from Kalita Humphreys. 1-866- 811-4111. secondthoughttheatre.com
Pegasus News Content partner - Christopher Soden, Dallas GLBT Arts Examiner
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