Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
Also see Bill's review of Harmony for the Holidays
Gruesome Playground Injuries is an episodic story over 30 years of meetings between Doug and Kayleen, from age 8 to 38. The scenes do not unfold chronologically, which must make acting these parts more difficult, but the two student actors offer up first rate performances, one magnificent, the other merely marvelous.
The play itself remains a bit of a cipher. Each meeting is framed by a major injury for one of the characters, sometimes both. While there is a clear underpinning of emotional connection, they keep missing the chance to fully realize what they might have and build it into something life affirming. Even almost 24 hours later I cannot answer the question of whether I liked the play or not. The fatal emotional flaws that lock the characters away from their potential with each other are never clear. She comes from a non supportive family, he from a more loving one, but both have major personal issues that seem to keep them from what Abraham Maslow terms actualization. Still, the writing is incisive and the characters interesting.
Anna Newbury is a first rate talent now and in the making. Her magnificent performance as as Kayleen scores at all ages. She is extraordinarily nuanced in the early adult years and later, shares layers of feeling connected to life as she has lived it so far. Alex Rodriguez is totally believable in the youngest incarnations of his character, a little less so as he stumbles into adulthood (ages 28-38). His is a vivid performance, physically astute, of a daredevil who never quit grows out of his Evel Knievel yearnings. These are performances that make the play live and breathe when it might crash and burn with lesser acting.
Ashley Teague directs. Between scenes the two characters transform from one age to another, mostly in full view of the audience. At first I found this off putting, partly because these are not rapid changes, but as the play progressed I accepted these rhythms more fully. In the perfectly sized Cook Theatre this production offers a wallop of a theatrical experience for the audience.
Set design and lighting by Chris McVicker as well as costume design by Sofia Gonzalez are highly effective in supporting the actors to give their best.
Asolo Conservatory for Actor Training's Gruesome Playground Injuries runs through January 19, 2020, at the Cook Theater, FSU Center, 5555 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota FL. For tickets and information, visit asolorep.org/conservatory/ or call the box office at 941-351-8000.