First things first, this is a marvelous script, so already this freelance artistic endeavor led by Hilberry Theatre alum Jordan Whalen starts off in a good place. Gruesome Playground Injuries is the story of two childhood friends whose physical and emotional scars follow them, haunt them and bind them together over the course of their thirty year relationship. The story jumps back and forth through time in ten and fifteen year intervals, giving us clues and signposts along the way, and revealing truths to the audience and the characters only when it's time. Joseph has a wonderful ear for dialogue and this production makes hay with his balance of humor and drama - it is a distinctly vulnerable and human piece of theatre, and I'm very glad to see it being done here.
The Elizabeth Theatre is a teeny little theatre, but the cast and production team have done a marvelous job of making it a living and versatile space. Peter Prouty and Kelly Komlen-Amadei have delightful chemistry together and do an admirable job of navigating the age range of their characters (from 8-38 in an hour and a half!) without playing stereotypes. Prouty in particular has an undeniable charm that makes us root for him even when he's unconscious. And Komlen-Amadei is positively captivating as she shifts from the effusive child to the damaged adult. The staging is creative and dynamic, making great use of the small stage, and the sound and lights tie off this tight little package nicely. In particular, the use of chalk throughout (seriously... this may be the most chalk per square foot I have ever seen) was marvelously evocative of the roots of the characters' relationships and how those dreams and memories fade and change over time. And while I do think that all the individual pieces of this production worked well in their own right, the most remarkable element for me was the sense of ensemble. Certainly the two actors were deeply connected, but it was quite clear in the atmosphere and even in the program (which only listed the actors, director and designers as "Artistic Team" without delineating titles and roles) how much all of these artists enjoyed working together. The costumes, the sounds, the lights, the actors and even the wounds all inhabited and enjoyed the same world, and they were thrilled to invite the audience members to join them there. If the show has one weakness it is that the scene changes take a little too long. Joseph specifies in the script that he wants all the costume changes to occur on stage in front of the audience, so they can't necessarily escape from it, and the actors usually do a nice job of maintaining energy through these changes, but I would have liked to see them a little simpler and tighter. That said...the time it takes to make the final scene change... totally worth it.
Gruesome Playground Injuries is a quick 90-minute evening that zips by even without an intermission (which this play definitely does not need). I laughed, I groaned, I cried, I flinched... and in the end, I was grateful to have had the chance to peek in at these characters' scars and take some time to reflect and even smile back on my own.
Gruesome Playground Injuries (Artistic Team: Devon Davey, Sara Hymes, Kelly Komlen-Amadei, Peter Prouty, Brian M. Scruggs and Jordan Whalen) continues Tuesday July 31, Thursday August 2, Sunday August 5 and Thursday August 9 at 8:00pm with a matinee Sunday August 12 at 2:00pm. Tickets are $12. To reserve tickets, email email@example.com