Peter Mooney and Janet Porter get Gruesome.
GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Stefan Dzeparoski (BirdLand). At the Theatre Centre (1087 Queen West). Runs to May 13, Tuesday-Sunday 7:30 pm, matinees Saturday-Sunday 1:30 pm. $20-$30. 416-538-0988. See listing. Rating: NNNN
Sticks and stones - and worse - may break the bones of Kayleen and Doug, the two characters in Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries, but wounds never seem to stop them. The pair make a fearsome team, whether fighting each other or the world at large.
Director Stefan Dzeparoski's production captures the often willful hearts of these characters, even if the writing doesn't offer quite enough about them.
We follow Kayleen (Janet Porter) and Doug (Peter Mooney) from ages eight to 38, the play's eight scenes jumping about in time - forward 15 years, back 10 - to provide fragmented portraits.
They first meet in the school nurse's office; Doug's ridden his bike off the school roof, Kayleen's been throwing up...again. Their bond starts here, forged out of curiosity, anger and an inexpressible need for each other. Castigation and caring, nastiness and nurturing combine in their relationship; they seem best and most at peace when they're together.
Kayleen may, in fact, bring a healing touch to Doug's wounds; at different points in the play, they both believe so.
Despite moments of spiky antagonism, the two care deeply for each other in their self-defined world of fireworks accidents, self-inflicted surgeries and lightning strikes. Mooney and Porter adeptly capture the push-pull quality of this relationship, giving the darkly comic moments proper weight. When have you ever witnessed a love scene that ends with the characters sharing a vomit?
If we don't know as much about Kayleen and Doug as we'd like to, it's a problem with the writing and not the excellent actors. They bring lots of unspoken emotion to their characters' encounters, an indication of baggage that's been building during the years between their meetings. The final scene offers some of their best work, a painful episode of reaching out and pulling back and just the gentlest hint of what might have been.
The scene changes function as more than opportunities to put on new costumes; they're resonant episodes in which we watch the actors assist each other, applying fake scars and dressing injuries. That acknowledgment of the theatrical removes some of the grisliness around the wounds we see and hear about.
Joseph Pagnan's inventive design, using both levels of the Theatre Centre, includes chained torsos constructed of bubble wrap as well as the detritus of the characters' lives. Gareth Crew magically lights this world, with Christopher Stanton's sound design and Jordan Tannahill's video giving the production additional eeriness.