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Gruesome Playgrounds Injuries

Review by Tulis McCall
(65 Feb 2011)

The title of this show is not the best. This is the story of two people whose relationship lasts 30 years, and that is only because the author chooses to stop there. Like Lombardi said, we didn't lose. We ran out of time.

And these two people, Kayleen (Jennifer Carpenter) and Doug (Pablo Schrieber) don't lose either. Exactly what they DO, however, is a mystery.

One thing they do is collide with one another over and over again. Part of the charm and drawback of this piece is Rajiv Joseph's decision to make the story not chronological. We see forwards and backwards. This makes tracking these two people more exciting, but it can also add confusion when the facts start to take over. Because it ain't about the facts, and Joseph's writing is clear on that.

Fortunately the facts do not overwhelm most of the time. This relationship put me in mind of the few relationships that I still have from grammar school, high school and college. I even boast a chum from kindergarten. Lately I have been thinking about these people - does winter do that with its weather that forces us indoors? We connect and part with regularity, but the longer we know one another the greater the poignancy and the connection.

It is the emotions in the writing that are its strength. The electrical currents of adventure, uncertainty, attraction, disappointment, hope that run through these two people are contagious. They are committed to one another both as characters and actors, which is what makes the evening work.

Less satisfying are some the choices these actors make. Too often they rely on the story of the text and refuse the invitation to dig deep. This is especially obvious in the scene in which Schreiber is in a coma and Carpenter tells him things she would never say were he awake. Carpenter chooses to stay safely within the exposition of the text so we learn little more about who she is. There are many opportunities like this that are missed which leaves me to think this was a directorial call by Scott Ellis. A curious choice when the entire play is a tennis game of text played on a court that is all heart.

In addition the set is a mystery, although a beautiful one. Neil Patel has created a slab atmosphere with audiences on both sides and water all around; lovely to look at and mystifying.

Engaging, but not spectacular. Satisfying but not memorable.

(Tulis McCall)

"His (Rajiv Joseph's) darkly funny, piquant sensibility somehow shrinks into preciousness in 'Gruesome Playground Injuries.'"
Ben Brantley for New York Times

"It wastes no time in revealing itself as irresistibly odd and exciting."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"The characters' affection for each other often feels forced: We're told it exists, but don't get any evidence."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post

"Repetitious and underdeveloped."
David Sheward for Back Stage

"The actors do what they can with these one-note people, while director Scott Ellis provides some welcome distractions." Robert Feldberg for The Record

"Tersely-written story... provid(es) nice opportunities for the actors to exercise their range."
Michael Summers for Newsroom Jersey

"Joseph's writing is a little too enigmatic to give it much emotional charge, but the play is weird and authentically painful enough to keep it enthralling."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter

"This wondrous strange two-hander examines its subject in a spare absurdist style that finds as much humor as horror in the play's bizarre events."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety

New York Times - New York Daily News - New York Post - Back Stage - The Record - Newsroom Jersey - The Hollywood Reporter - Variety

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