By Rajiv Joseph; Directed by Ash Mayfair
Produced by F.I.T.R. Productions
Off Off Broadway, Play Revival
Runs through 4.26.15
Teatro Circulo, 64 East 4th Street
by Dave Osmundsen on 4.17.15
Priyank Rastogi and Jaz Zepatos in Gruesome Playground Injuries. Photo by Jane Marcus.
BOTTOM LINE: An interesting exploration of how we hurt each other physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Pain is a lengthy, sometimes constant resident in our minds. This point is clear from the moment one first lays their eyes upon the set of F.I.T.R.’s production of Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries. The mostly black and white set (skillfully designed by Laura Moss) consists of white hand prints covering the space, wire that has been bent into human shapes that are adorned with clothes, white boxes with clothes spilling out of them, a bed covered with a white sheet, and a wheelchair lying against the wall. A soundscape featuring echoes of children crying in anguish, pain, and aggression reverberates. This austere space is clearly a part of the mind where painful memories reside.
This makes perfect sense for Rajiv Joseph’s play, a darkly comic exploration of the pain we inflict on one another and ourselves. The story focuses on the tumultuous relationship between Doug (Priyank Rastogi) and Kayleen (Jaz Zepatos) over a number of years. He is a chronic risk-taker who seemingly can’t even leave his home without injuring himself in some wacky manner. In the first two scenes alone, we hear of him falling on his face, having his eye split open by an ice skate, and blowing his eye out with fireworks. Kayleen is a loner who, having survived a verbally abusive father who told her she will never be the woman her absent mother was, doesn’t believe anyone will love her.
The two share injuries caused by nature, other people, and themselves. These injuries both attract and repel the two from one another. Director Ash Mayfair has clearly mined this script for subtext -- the production features many small, lovely moments that give a clear picture of the emotional tug-of-war these characters instigate. Early on, when Doug is recovering from the loss of his eye, he implores Kayleen to touch his eye socket. He believes she will heal it. She refuses, saying it’s disgusting. As Doug staggers about the stage in pursuit of Kayleen, she avoids him. We feel Doug’s need for companionship, as well as Kayleen’s fear of pain, even if it’s happening to other people.
Zepatos is strong as Kayleen. She handles Kayleen’s pain and self-imposed isolation with admirable restraint. Rastogi has some touching moments as Doug, but his sing-song, rapid-fire delivery renders some of his dialogue incomprehensible. Together, their acting styles contrast. This emphasizes their characters rarely being on the same page. However, it also creates the feeling of the actors being in two different plays. Since this is a two-person play, this schism in acting styles prevents us from being as invested in the characters as we could be.
Then again, Joseph’s play is a little difficult to get into. I actually read the play a little while back and felt it was rather thin. Seeing it on stage highlights its great dialogue, but the same problems I had with it on the page arose for me. I never learned much about Kayleen and Doug other than that the two of them get hurt very frequently, both physically and emotionally. I never learned enough about their pasts, or their relationships with other people, in order to really get behind their relationship. I wondered if the non-linear structure Joseph provided would render the play confusing, but Mayfair’s clear-eyed direction makes sure that we are never lost in the timeline. Another challenge of Joseph’s script is the transitions between scenes. The actors change for the next scene in full view of the audience. I feel like this has the potential to highlight some character traits to the audience -- private moments that the characters don’t want to show one another -- but it felt more like a technique to pad the 85 minute running time.
This would certainly be an interesting date show. While a love story, it’s a bit too, well, gruesome to be considered a typical boy-meets-girl story. However, it reveals a lot of honest truth about relationships, namely that, to paraphrase another author, you can never really know someone until you’ve experienced their pain, whether firsthand or secondhand.
(Gruesome Playground Injuries plays at Teatro Circulo, 64 East 4th Street through April 26, 2015. Performances are Thursdays through Fridays at 8PM; Saturdays at 3PM and 8PM; and Sundays at 3PM. Tickets are $25 and are available at fitrproductions.com or by calling 804-404-FITR.)