Arts & EntertainmentArts & Culture
Review

'Gruesome Playground Injuries' at Theatre Theater

Gruesome Playground Injuries is more arty character study than memorable theatrical journey

The destructive streak in human nature is a recurring theme fast-rising playwright Rajiv Joseph, explores from different angles. Compared to his 2009 breakout “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” which splattered the psychological and moral consequences of violence across a broad geopolitical canvas, “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” his two-hander that debuted later the same year, is more inwardly focused on the legacy of childhood trauma. Joseph’s off-kilter sympathy for damaged outcasts is a natural fit for the edgy sensibilities of Rogue Machine, which launches its seventh season with a well-performed and handsomely staged production at Theatre Theater; the play itself, however, is more arty character study than memorable theatrical journey.

A series of gruesome self-inflicted wounds provide the connective tissue in Joseph’s “broke-mance,” tracing the thirty-year dysfunctional relationship between parental abuse victim Kayleen (Jules Willcox) and her accident-prone friend, Doug (Brad Fleischer, who originated the role at Houston’s Alley Theatre). They’re eight years old when they first meet in a school infirmary; after clearing that always-problematic performance hurdle for adult actors, Fleischer and Willcox build a genuine, affecting rapport through their characters’ subsequent friendship and estrangement.

The play’s saw-toothed chronology alternates fifteen-year leaps forward with ten-year flashbacks; director Larissa Kokernot mercifully helps us keep track by having the actors scrawl the characters’ age on a chalkboard during the leisurely scene transitions and onstage costume changes specified in the script. To the question always raised by a fractured timeline—what does it add versus playing the story straight through?—the answer here is not much. When Joseph’s script leaves the roots of Kayleen and Doug’s self-destructive impulses largely opaque, theatrical artifice isn’t a substitute for insight.

“Gruesome Playground Injuries,” Theatre Theater, 5041 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. 5 p.m. Saturdays, 7 p.m. Sundays, 8 p.m. Mondays (dark June 23). Ends July 14. $30. (855) 585-5185 or www.roguemachinetheatre.com. Running time: 1 hours, 25 minutes.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • 'The Guardsman' at NoHo Arts Center
    'The Guardsman' at NoHo Arts Center

    The NoHo Arts Center is the latest company to revive Ferenc Molnár’s “The Guardsman,” a perennially popular, gentle skirmish in the battle between the sexes. (Lunt and Fontanne starred in its 1924 Broadway premiere and in the 1931 film; Harold Pinter used it as inspiration for his more...

  • The rise and spectacular fall of Venice Beach's Pacific Ocean Park
    The rise and spectacular fall of Venice Beach's Pacific Ocean Park

    If you had walked along the beach in Venice in the early 1970s, you would have come across the sagging, crumbling, partially incinerated ghost of an old amusement park on a pier. If you've watched the skate documentary "Dogtown and Z-Boys," which shows surfers nimbly riding waves...

Comments
Loading