Theatre

Gruesome Playground Injuries’ is genuinely affecting

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Shawn Hackler and Felicia Taylor command the stage in Gruesome Playground Injuries.
Jacob Coakley

The Details

Gruesome Playground Injuries
Four stars
Continues February 14-16, 8 p.m. & February 17, 2 p.m.; $15-$18.
Art Square Theatre, cockroachtheatre.com

Gruesome Playground Injuries, by Rajiv Joseph and produced by Cockroach Theatre, tells the story of Doug (played by Shawn Hackler) and Kayleen (Felicia Taylor) through a series of extreme physical conditions, metaphorically rending flesh to see just how important the physical is to the emotional. Each scene focuses around an injury, and yes, they are gruesome. But thanks to the work of Taylor and Hackler, they are also incandescent. I couldn’t tear my eyes off the stage, and when I did I invariably missed a funny or touching moment, and the audience let me know with its laughter or sighs.

In a brilliant coup de théâtre, the characters change costumes and put makeup on their injuries in full view of the audience. That turned those moments from the slowest scene changes ever into something raw, tender and funny, the machinations both characters went through to protect themselves from each other, or reach out to the other. It’s also a sly bit of playing with the audience. What will the injury be this time? And how will it impact their relationship?

Levi Fackrell directed with a light hand, and Scott Fadale’s set was simple but extremely functional, creating many levels and areas on which the actors could play and evoking a classic Greek amphitheater. Alex Nelson’s lighting design made the piece the best-lit show yet at Art Square Theatre.

Hackler was fearless as Doug, moving fluidly between fierce bravado and affection, then a weariness later in life. With Kayleen’s depression, Taylor was given a little less to do, but I wanted to see a more jagged, knife-sharp Kayleen. She was a little too “manic pixie girl,” as opposed to a powder keg of bad news. Doug is attracted to danger and doing stupid things—Kayleen needed to be both, and whether it was simply a function of conservative costuming (the one wrong note in Georgia Richardson’s work in costuming and makeup) or not strong enough choices from Taylor, her edge wasn’t quite sharp enough. Still, this is a stunning production—a funny, gruesome and emotionally wrenching show.

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