A cane, an eye bandage, a wheelchair and scars are evidence of the many wounds a man and a woman endure in playwright Rajiv Joseph’s haunting time-jumping 90-minute drama, Gruesome Playground Injuries. It’s structured as eight punchy short scenes spanning 30 years, with titles such as “Scene 6, ‘Age Thirty-Three: A Blue Raspberry Dip’” that are written on a blackboard.
Our throw up is all mixed together. You wanna see? So awesome.
Doug and Kayleen are eight-year-olds who encounter and bond with each other in the nurse’s office of their elementary school. She’s there for severe stomach issues and he jumped off the roof. With minimal though precise background information and poetic dialogue, Mr. Joseph, a Pulitzer Prize-finalist for his Iraq war fantasia Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, crafts a hypnotic character study of two troubled souls platonically yet intensely ever after connected by their self-inflicted and accidental injuries.
The militant New York City-based theater troupe, Company of Fools emerges from the pandemic with their jolting revival of Joseph’s bold 2011 play. It’s performed in a spacious area of a Queens art gallery with a maximum of 26 masked audience members and Covid-19 precautions and is also available to stream. Striking paintings by artist Brittany Miller are displayed and the scenes are punctuated with recorded bracing original songs by local performers.
Cameron Cueva Clarke as Doug and Logan Alexis Troyer as Kayleen, each offer riveting performances energetically rendering the poignant complexities of their dysfunctional characters from childhood to middle-age. Director Tyler Riley’s charged staging in concert with Mr. Clarke’s creative conceptual direction achieves a Brechtian dimension of distance. The florescent ceiling lights are never dimmed, there’s no theatrical lighting, the actors rearrange props and furniture and strip to their undergarments between scenes to laboriously change their clothing which hangs on a visible rack. This can all be interpreted as symbolically acknowledging the challenge of mounting a play during this time.
Following a year of limbo, devotees of live theater could find themselves reinvigorated by this passionate production.
Gruesome Playground Injuries (through May 24, 2021)
Company of Fools
Culture Lab LIC @ The Plaxall Gallery, 5-25 46th Avenue, in Queens
For tickets, visit http://www.companyoffoolstheatre.com
Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission