It's a two-person play, tracking the lives of a boy and girl who might become best friends (or might have a more intimate relationship), but, ultimately, don't. Kayleen and Doug first meet at age 8 in the school nurse's officeshe has a stomachache and he has an ugly gash on his forehead from a playground fall. Kayleen is disgusted by Doug, but also intrigued. When she calls him "stupid," there's a tone of admiration in her voice. Kayleen wants to see his injury ... and even touch it. The next scene is some 15 years later; Kayleen is now visiting Doug in the hospital after he's done something else stupid (but, he points out, "the fireworks were awesome"). It's clear that the two of them now have a history, but it is also clear that they aren't the friends, or the couple, that they could have been. That's age 23; the show then jumps back as early as 13, and ahead as far as 38. When they're younger, there's hope for a relationship (which you already know won't happen); and when they're older, there are a few brief and unsatisfactory explanations offered for why they aren't together.
What saves Rogue Machine's production is some solid acting. Jules Willcox does a terrific job with the complex Kayleen. As the play progresses, we learn that Kayleen has injuries of her own, but they're more hidden than Doug's. Willcox gives a good portrait of a prickly exterior over a vulnerable inside. Brad Fleischer has an easier job with Doug, who is a pretty straightforward characterhe's very open about who he is and what he wants. He's at his very best when the kids are 13; pre-teen Doug is full of youthful enthusiasm and excitement.
There is a line in the play which strongly implies that, while we're only seeing a selection of their interactions as kids and teens, the play is showing us every single meeting of Doug and Kayleen after high schooland there just aren't enough of them to make us genuinely care about the connection that might have been. The lack of a connection is emphasized by, of all things, the scene changes. All costume changes take place on stage, in full view of the audience. We watch the performers change into age appropriate outfits (and injuries) as they prepare for each scene. In silence, there's a level of intimacy between the performers which is simply not achieved between their characters. While this is likely intentional, it didn't add anything to my appreciation of the play. Instead, with the multiple deliberately-paced changes in this one-act play, it very nearly became tiresome. There's only so much "what could have been" that you can take in a play; and, with Gruesome Playground Injuries, that's really all there is to it.
Rogue Machine Theatre presents Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph. Scenic Design/Technical Director David Mauer; Costume Design Halei Parker; Lighting Design Dan Weingarten; Sound Design Colin Wambsgans; Property Design Jennifer McHugh; Production Manager Amanda Mauer; Assistant Directors Ivan Rivas & Jamie Wollrab; Casting Victoria Hoffman; Stage Manager Ramón Valdez. Produced by John Perrin Flynn & David Mauer. Directed by Larissa Kokernot.
Gruesome Playground Injuries runs at Rogue Machine Theatre through July 14, 2014. For tickets and information, see www.roguemachinetheatre.com