Gruesome Playground Injuries is a solid production

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By Rajiv Joseph. Directed by Chelsea Haberlin. A Stone’s Throw production, presented by Pacific Theatre. At Pacific Theatre on Thursday, July 3. Continues until July 12

Gruesome Playground Injuries feels more like a dramatic device than a fully fledged play.

In Rajiv Joseph’s script, Doug and Kayleen meet in the nurse’s room of their Catholic elementary school. She’s there with a stomach upset and he just rode his bike off the school roof, playing Evel Knievel. In a series of scenes that jump back and forth in time, the characters range between eight and 38 years old, and one or both of them have always suffered some sort of physical disaster. Doug is particularly prone to losing the use of body parts.

If this sounds like an engaging setup, don’t be fooled. There is a fair bit of dark humour, to be sure: after not having seen her pal for years, the depressive Kayleen offers a comatose Doug, “I am trying not to swear so much. And I’m moisturizing. So that’s what’s going on with me.” But the script’s main idea (almost its only idea), that love is about embracing one another’s pain, doesn’t have nearly enough juice to last the show’s 90-minute running time.

That’s because the script is all premise and no context. Why is Kayleen such a mess? We understand that her father was a jerk, but he’s a generic jerk, so that doesn’t help much. And the writer offers almost no detail of the characters’ lives outside of their sporadic encounters with one another. There’s some tension between romance and friendship in these exchanges, and a teeny bit of tension about the likelihood of the two opening themselves to the full solace of their bond. Mostly, though, Gruesome Playground Injuries repeats itself without acquiring depth.

Still, the production is solid. Newcomers Pippa Johnstone (Kayleen) and Kenton Klassen (Doug) are both talents to watch. Klassen finds a whole lot of charm in Doug’s goofy hyperactivity. His performance gets a little wet in the final scenes—his 38-year-old comes across as a sentimental codger. Overall, though, Klassen impresses. And Johnstone is so thoroughly grounded and subtly responsive that I kept imagining what it would be like to watch her on film.

Carolyn Rapanos’s set would be more handsome without the grid of bandages, or whatever they are, hanging from the ceiling, but her benches, which are the basic set pieces, are pleasingly elemental and flexible. And costumer Christopher David Gauthier’s limited grey palette is effective. Director Chelsea Haberlin deserves credit for the consistently high standards of this production.

Still, it would be great to see this team’s attentions lavished on more substantial—less sensationalistic, less gimmicky—script.

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