Happy endings, in their truest fairy-tale versions, rarely come to fruition. Instead, life amounts to masses of heartbreak, injury, and failed dreams. But even within this dour, grim view of the world, we can find comfort by commiserating. By joining calloused hands and bearing scars, the world just may get a little less dim.
Gruesome Playground Injuries details these struggles by looking at a single relationship as it cyclically atrophies and blossoms. The dark comedy drama, penned by Rajiv Joseph, sees friends Doug and Kayleen as they rencounter one another throughout their lives. Their meetings, usually predicated on the latest blunders of the accident-prone Doug, leave both parties yearning for a deeper connection, but, for various reasons, letting their connection wither. The play progresses nonlinearly, with each scene acting as an important episode of their relationship. From the age of 8 to 23, then to 13 and all the way to 38, Doug and Kayleen come to many of the same repetitive conclusions about their state in the world, but sadly continue to lose themselves—and each other—in an endless series of pitfalls.
During the Bonn Studio performance of Gruesome, directed by Kyle Hanscon, MCAS ’17, the intimacy of the narrative was heightened in the close setting. The proximity to Kayleen (Erica Fallon, MCAS ’18) and Doug (Alex O’Connor, MCAS ’20) allowed for their struggles to resonate with the audience as every emote and jest could be seen. In several cases, the characters entered the center stage through the sides as if coming from the audience itself. In this way everything played out on stage hits almost every spot on a viewer’s emotional palette.
Much of the success of the film can be attributed to the characters who felt lived and real. Even though their years are superficially represented on stage through dress and demeanor, there was a constant sense that each had more of a story.
In an email, Hanscon described the process they went through to evoke this sentiment.
“We spent two days of our rehearsal process fabricating the almost forty-years of life for Kayleen and Doug,” he said. “Going from how they felt the first time they interacted with each other to exploring what would happen between the unspoken years of each scene.”
As Doug, O’Connor straddled the line between admirable naivety and earnestness. As Kayleen was often quick to point out, Doug, though not the brightest flame, has a heart of gold, making his constant injury and misfortune more perturbing. O’Connor captured that essence through his impassioned delivery and gesticulation. Whether it be in regards to Kayleen’s negligent father, her abusive boyfriend, or her general sadness, the sentiment felt nothing short of genuine.
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As Kayleen, Fallon’s nuanced facial expressions pointed to the character’s internal struggles. While Doug wore his emotions on his sleeve, Kayleen kept much of her hurt on the inside. Fallon was about to convey this, through her closed body language and perpetual sense of languish worn on her face. As a result of these disparate emotional dispositions, the strain of their relationship could be more fully understood.
Both actors succinctly conveyed the age of 8 without delving into the realms of camp. They captured the essence of child-like behavior and dialogue in a believable and serious manner.
Additionally, Fallon and O’Connor spiced in a healthy dose of humor as they delivered a few choice lines. Humor served a twofold purpose. It established a more believable friendship complete with riffing, jabs, and quips. And it decompressed much of the tension brought about through the more serious moments of the play.
With regard to the setting and the progression of time, the mechanics of transition helped further ideas of confusion and timelessness. At the onset of each scene, the stage crew dragged decor around and scrawled out the age of the couple on the floor in chalk. Left on the floor, after several iterations of dragging and rearranging between scenes, the words became effaced or blurred. The current age of the current scene remained the only clear etching on the ground. This added to the overall nonlinear progress and time as everything, including the physical space became more disconcerted and out of place.
Life is not all it is cracked up to be. Like Doug’s bones, relationships splinter, families fracture, and emotional scars run deep. But we have friends to take our hand and show that although everybody hurts, not everyone has to be alone.
At the tender age of 13, in a quasi-romantic jest, Doug makes himself puke in an act of solidarity with Kayleen.
“Our throw up is all mixed together,” he said looking inside the bin.
She steps closer and looks inside.
“Yeah,” she says smiling, looking up at him, “yeah.”
Featured Image By Shaan Bijwadia / Heights Staff