Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph hardly sounds like a cheery comedy. Spanning the course of 30 years in spaces that include a school nurse’s office, a hospital, a heath facility, and a funeral home makes it seem-at least on the surface-like a 24 hour marathon of Schindler’s List. Although this stunningly poignant work does have a dark side, it has plenty of laughs to temper the heavy burdens carried by its only two characters.
Joseph’s play, which originally premiered at Off Broadway’s Second Stage in 2011 is currently being revived at Theaterlab by producer Alexander Scelso (who also stars) in a thoughtful and well guided production under the direction of Adin Walker.
Injuries opens in a school nurse’s office where an 8 year old Doug (Scelso) is reeling from a bike fall off the institution’s roof. His attempt at mimicking Evil Knievel ends with a head gash. He meets Kayleen (Sofiya Cheyenne) a spunky and sassy 8 year old who comes rife with psychological problems which only accelerate as the play unfolds. Still, the two forge a complicated bond that carry them well into adulthood. Joseph’s work toggles back and forth in 5 year increments and each time our players reconnect, it is only under calamitous circumstances. Doug is a carefree wild child who can neither resist nor defeat danger. Kayleen, who Doug affectionately refers to as “Leenie,” is the single person who has the power to “heal” Doug by touching his wounds. Meanwhile, Leenie must navigate the troublesome road of bad relationships with men and her own father.
This demanding two hander requires actors of great skill and versatility. Cheyenne and Scelso not only rise to the occasion; with their magnetic chemistry, they hold us in the palms of their hands from beginning to end, forcing us to root for a permanent romance . Cheyenne is a mighty force capable of expressing both the guarded nature and deep vulnerabilities of Kayleen. Scelso is a sensitive and gifted performer who delivers a seemingly effortless but heartbreaking performance.
Injuries could easily tred into the dangerous zone of melodrama, but Joseph’s tender prose allows for a much more significant and meaningful drama. He reminds us that human connection is rarely black and white. More often than not it is flawed, bloody, volatile and complex. Though when grace shines favor upon us, it is a supremely beautiful and exhilarating ride.
Gruesome Playground Injuries runs through Sunday Dec. 18th @ Theaterlab (357 West 36th Street between 8th and 9th). For tickets and information, visit: http://www.theaterlabnyc.com/events/gruesome-playground-injuries-by-rajiv-joseph/