Some wounds are visible; some are not seen, but are nevertheless there, inside. The characters in Rajiv Joseph’s play Gruesome Playground Injuries, now onstage at the Cook Theatre in an FSU/Asolo Conservatory production, like most of us, have both kinds.
Kayleen (Anna Newbury) and Doug (Alex Rodriguez) first meet as eight-year-olds in their elementary school clinic, where the accident-prone Doug has scored one of a succession of injuries that dog him throughout life. Kayleen has a “sensitive” stomach, which means she’s likely to throw up a lot. We can only guess at first what role emotions might play in her upsets. But as we see these two interact over a period of years—going forward in time 15 years, then back 10 repeatedly over the course of the play—we gain insight into her situation, as well as into Doug’s continuing love for her.
Each scene is introduced with the announcement of a corresponding age and injury—“face split open” or “eye blown out”—and pretty much each one also leads to the question “Does it hurt?” For these two, again as for many of us, a lot of the injuries they suffer are basically self-inflicted, but there is hope that somehow, someday, they can heal each other.
Joseph’s short play (only about 65 minutes running time, but it doesn’t need to be longer) intersperses humor (sometimes gross) with pathos (assisted by Alex Pinchin’s sound design, which blends a medley of pop hits from the past few decades and includes, naturally, Johnny Cash’s rendition of “Hurt”—you can’t beat that for getting the tears to flow). Director Ashley Teague keeps the scenes moving with the use of that music, Chris McVicker’s lighting, and swift work by the show’s crew that involves trundling hospital beds on and off stage and tossing props to and fro in choreographed fashion.
From curious, combative grade school kids to pubescent teens practice kissing to young adults still troubled and seeking, Newbury and Rodriguez are convincing and make a good pair of friends and would-be lovers. And we do care about what happens to them, although Joseph’s ending may leave audience opinions divided about just what that is.
Gruesome Playground Injuries continues through Jan. 19; for tickets, call 351-8000 or go to asolorep.org/conservatory.