“Does it hurt?”
That theme is asked over and over in Local Jewell’s production of Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries. Every new age comes with some new injury as we watch two broken children grow into two broken adults searching for the answer to that question.
As the play continues, the question evolves slightly. It shifts and splits and grows into a hive of more complex questions like- How do you define love? Where do you draw the line between mental anguish and physical anguish? How much pain would you actually go through for someone else? How much space can go by in between meetings of the heart and healings of past wounds before you notice the gap? How do you measure the moments in that bleak space between injuries, that doesn’t present itself to you as a unit of time?
But for all the splitting and maneuvering and growing and evolving, these questions are really only mediocre, less complicated copies of the original.
“Does it hurt?”
Through a series of miniature, out of order anecdotes, we watch as Kayleen and Doug wend their way through life, attempting to find the meaning of hurt, comparing the scars and the physical calamities that keep drawing them together.
In a way, Gruesome Playground Injuries feels like the truest of love stories. Both Kayleen and Doug are driven to hurt themselves, but for very different reasons and in very different ways. Their shared craving tethers them together through the years. They are two people who cannot find solace or understanding in others, they drive themselves toward injury because one isn’t whole without the other.
They will always find their way back to the other because they need to hear that reassuring “yes,” when asked, “does it hurt?”
Sarah Rose Nottingham is crisp and real in her portrayal of the self detached Kayleen, whose mental scars are the true root of the multitude of stomach ailments that plague her. Nottingham is quiet and understated and heart wrenching as someone who cannot rid herself of her sickness, no matter the supposed cure. Nottingham is one of the most natural performance artists I have seen in Seattle.
Craig Peterson’s energetic portrayal of the exuberant Doug, constantly hovers on the adolescent border of intensity and attention deficit. He starts off the play loud and boisterous, and ends it still and quiet. At first, his character transformation didn’t seem to move at all, but the small differences that made up Doug’s aging became apparent. I enjoyed the subtle change from rebel without a cause to rebel with only cause.
That is not to say that the play isn’t funny. It is hilarious. Both Nottingham and Peterson are up to its comedic challenges and at moments, their timing was so perfect that I ended clutching my sides from laughter. The playful humor in the script is nicely handled by them both, and adds to the charm and familiarity of their characters.
The physicality of the play is housed in a series of bodily ruinations- the blood, the first kiss, the loss of virginity, the mixing of fluids, the touching of open wounds. It was all very corporeal. But even with this organic content, the play’s portrayal of its own ideas of sexuality is innocent and sweet. It lacks suggestive overtones throughout the play. The theme of purity and innocence incredibly apparent and were consistent in the delicate direction.
In lesser hands, the material could be cuter than thou and trite, and the vignette nature of each scene could end up feeling like bad sketch comedy. But Kaznowski steers the script in a way that honors the characters’ true motives.
This deference to the material is most apparent, actually, in the unlikeliest of places, and one of my favorite things the show had to offer; the scene changes. It was incredibly refreshing. Instead of going right to black, hiding the change, the actors and set were exposed like an open wound. We watched as the actors removed age from their bodies, completely taking away any recognizable piece from the previous scene and dressing themselves into a whole new character like a bandage or a tourniquet. I couldn’t stop watching.
And it got me wondering what would happen next. When Peterson brought out and donned a neck brace, I found my mind reeling, wondering what fresh Hell he’d gotten himself into now.
Gruesome Playground Injuries is an emotional left hook right into the kisser. It will make you not only wonder if it hurts, but why. Because it does. It really does hurt.
And it’s wonderful.
By Jennifer Nöel Klouse