by Lynn on May 8, 2012

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Theatre Centre until May 13. Written by Rajiv Joseph. Directed by Stefan Dzeparoski. Designed by Joseph Pagnan. Lighting by Gareth Crew. Sound by Christopher Staunton. Video Jordan Tannahill. Starring: Peter Mooney and Janet Porter.

Produced by BirdLand Theatre and Derrick Chua

Gruesome Playground Injuries-Playwright Rajiv Joseph certainly has chosen an intriguing title! And designer Joseph Pagnan has created an incredibly eerie, ghost-story-suggestive set and atmosphere. You enter into a hazy space, lit like a thick fog by Gareth Crew, which adds to the spookiness. A low-rumbling soundscape, courtesy of Christopher Staunton, fills the room, adding to the sense of foreboding. Human shapes, both whole and in halves, wrapped in plastic wrap are suspended from the ceiling. There is a sense of gloom and doom. Unfortunately neither the title nor the herculean effort that has gone into realizing that spooky world by director Stefan Dzeparoski, has anything to do with Joseph’s play.

Doug and Kayleen have been friends since they first met in the school nurse’s office, when they were eight. Kayleen was throwing up for some mysterious reason. Doug had just ridden his bike off the roof and gashed his forehead. He was pretending to be Evil Kenevil. They bond instantly over their maladies. “Does it hurt?” Kayleen asks. “No.” says Doug. “Can I touch it?” Kayleen wants to know. Doug lets her. This gives him comfort. Which is pretty much their routine over the next thirty years. Until Doug finally grows up and says that yes the latest injury does hurt and no she can’t touch him. I guess this is a breakthrough.

Doug and Kayleen are damaged goods. Walking wounded. He continues to do himself injuries, not necessarily in the playground, (in fact most often not—so the title is a tease). He loses an eye; he hurts a leg; until by the end of the play he’s in a wheelchair. She was abandoned by her mother and lived with an unloving, S.O.B. of a father. She ‘graduates’ from throwing up to cutting herself. They seem to have no one but each other. They complete each other. At one point Doug tells Kayleen that she is himself. But for some unknown reason they pick other partners. She marries, unhappily. Doug tries to find her after a few years but can’t. He even goes to her S.O.B. of a father to find out and is unsuccessful. But they always come back into each other.

Playwright Rajiv Joseph is maddeningly vague on the details of their lives. Is there no help for these two? Why don’t they stay with each other? Why do they leave their partners and come back to each other? The self-affliction of injuries runs deep in both of them. After asking ‘why’ for much of the play, the question becomes tiresome as Joseph refuses to dig deeper to reveal more. It seems a whole lot of effort on Joseph’s part to be profound and he’s not. I found the same situation with his previous play, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo—a story about war torn Baghdad as seen through the eyes of a tiger played by an actor as a person. Metaphor in neon.

It’s hard to decide what is more incomprehensible about this production—Stefan Dzeparoski’s meandering program note that tries to explain it, or his scattered direction. One of the plastic wrap figures drops from the ceiling. Why? Dzeparoski stages the cast of two all over the set with little connection, seemingly just to move them and appear to use the space. Truth to tell, the most intimate moments are when the two are close together on a chair or the floor, just talking.

Their scenes move back and forth in time beginning when Kayleen and Doug are eight and ending when they are thirty-eight. At the end of each scene Peter Mooney as Doug and Janet Porter as Kayleen, take off their costumes to their underwear, move upstage, ritualistically wash their hands in a communal bowl of water, and then take each other’s make-up off. Porter is particularly attentive to Mooney—washing his face, removing an eye-patch or putting it on. He tenderly removes the blood from her thigh when “Kayleen” cut herself. Then both move to another part of the stage to put on their costumes for the next scene. It’s an interesting bit of business by Dzeparoski but the tenderness is to the actors and not the characters. So again, I have to wonder why?

They do the hand-washing near a large plastic sheet onto which Jason Tannahill has projected images supposedly of Doug and Kayleen. I say, ‘supposedly’ because the sheet is rippled and thus distorts anything projected on it. So if there is supposed to be anything meaningful, it’s lost.

The performances by Peter Mooney as Doug and Janet Porter as Kayleen are the saving graces of this frustrating production. They are charming, endearing, awkward and innocent at the beginning of their relationship, and just plain sad as they sink deeper and deeper into their neuroses. He is awkward, disarmingly full of clumsy bravado and outwardly ‘cool’. She is hard-edged, self-contained, and so lost it makes your teeth hurt.

Wonderful performances from both of them.

They are the two bright spots in ponderous play and an incomprehensible production. Nope, can’t recommend this one. Better to stay home and pick your scabs.

Gruesome Playground Injuries plays at the Theatre Centre until May 13.

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1 Brian May 14, 2012 at 4:15 am

Excellent comments. We were fooled into going by many of the good reviews in the press. Our rating – one (out of five, or maybe even more). The comment about the programme note was particularly accurate – “the creative team.. were interested in exploring the geography of human face and body” What the **** does that mean? Sounds a bit like Playboy.