Friday, July 11, 2014

Gruesome Playground Injuries

Gruesome Playground Injuries by Raviv Joseph.  Doug (Jamie Wollrab), Kayleen (Laila Ayad)
Playwright:  Rajiv Joseph
Company:  Triptych Theatre Company
Venue:  Carsen Theatre, The Dairy Center for the Arts, 2590 Walnut Street, Boulder CO, 80302.
Running Time:  1 hour, 30 minutes (no intermission).
Date of Performance:  Thursday, July 10, 2014 (Preview performance)

Rajiv Joseph is a gifted playwright; his Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo garnered him a finalist nomination for a Pulitzer Prize in 2010.  Bengal Tiger is a broad, profound and challenging script, dealing with very big issues.  Unlike Bengal Tiger, Gruesome Playground Injuries (hereafter GPI) narrowly focuses on two self destructive friends who are incapable of emotional growth.
While the two plays have distinctly different focal points, both put the audience in awkward, powerful and yet delicate emotional situations that show us real people at their best...and at their worst.
GPI tells a non-linear story about Doug (Jamie Wollrab) and Kayleen (Laila Ayad) over a period of 30 years.  Friends since they were both eight years old, Doug and Kayleen constantly drift apart and then reconnect during their personal crises.  Doug specializes in physical injuries; he "breaks his face" on the playground and gets hit by lightning, for starters.  Kayleen's crises are more emotional than physical, although her rape contains both elements.  Neither is capable of learning from his or her mistakes.  The episodic crises in bedrooms and emergency rooms are both predictable and inevitable. 
Triptych's production features crackling performances from both Jamie Wollrab and Laila Ayad.  Their chemistry is palpable; their friendship is so deep as to border on platonic love.  Their damaged souls are on constant display, whether they are 8 years old or full grown adults.  
Wollrab is an accomplished, first rate actor; here he ranges from a hurt little boy to a broken adult, evoking our empathy and our sympathy at every turn and at every age.  When Doug learns that Kayleen was raped, he is furious.  Wollrab explodes with sincere fury; he is clearly capable of killing the rapist.  As a child, Wollrab retreats into his little boy mode, speaking in a little boy voice, with little boy facial expressions.  His Doug is simultaneously innocent and toxic, devoted and distant, caring and careless.
Laila Ayad is a talented actress who both complements and confronts Wollrab.  Her alternately angry and loving relationship with Doug is masterful.  She fiercely provokes Doug at times, and yet she can tenderly touch him when he most needs a touch.  She can kiss him one moment, and vomit the next.  She alternately loves and hates Doug, and Ayad makes each moment credible and even logical.  
Director Eric Hunnicutt has added some interesting touches to his version of GPI. I counted approximately seven (7) costume changes for the cast; Hunnicut puts those costumes changes on stage, in full view of the audience.  The first was was a little jarring, but I came to see the costume changes as a metaphor for the these characters who do not "change" no matter what clothes they wear.  Neither Doug nor Kayleen grow emotionally over the 30 year span, and changing their clothes doesn't change their characters.  It's a constant reminder that Doug and Kayleen can change how they look but not who they are. 
Hunnicutt doesn't use projections or some other typical method to tell us what we need to know about the scene changes.  I won't spoil how he gives those cues to the audience, but I found it very effective.  It not only gives the audience the necessary information, but the information stays in their consciousness as the time line shifts back and forth.
Lights (Kevin Fulton) and sound (Rick Reid) are both effective and subtle.  Fulton lights the stage during the costume changes by having the actors switch on floor lamps.  He's signaling to the audience that a costume change is happening, and when the floor lamps are switched off, we know we're back to the story.  Rick Reid's sound design includes an unobtrusive but eery heart monitor during a scene in which Wollrab has literally no lines to speak.  Reid's background "beep...beep...beep" is all we need to hear from Wollrab.
Joseph's final scene is somewhat anticlimactic, leaving the audience in the emotional detritus of his two characters.  There is lesson, no growth, no resolution for them, or for us.  We have witnessed a 30 year friendship that nobly withstands episodic crises, but which never fully blossoms.  Joseph's question for us is "Do we have a Doug or a Kayleen in our lives?"  
Sadly, the answer for most of us is probably "yes."  
We know exactly who Doug and Kayleen are, because we know people just like them.  
Doug (Jamie Wollrab) and Kayleen (Laila Ayad).  
This show is suitable for teens and up.  Be aware, though, that the script includes adult language and implied rape and violence.
If you're traveling from the north, south, or east, plan on road construction on both Highways 36 and 93.  Both roads can be challenging until the work is done (if ever).  Possible alternate route:  I-25 to exit 229, then west on Highway 7.  Highway 7 becomes Baseline Road near Boulder.  
This show closes on July 20, 2014. 
Pre or post show dining suggestion:  

Cantina Laredo, 1680 29th Street (29th Street Mall) is close to the theater, and offers an upscale, gourmet Mexican menu.  Dos XX Lager and Amber on draft, and an excellent Margarita menu.  Happy Hour specials, 4:00-7:00 PM.  Dinner menu has several gluten free choices.  It's definitely an upscale atmosphere in the dining room; tables include white linen tablecloths.  Patio seating if you're feeling more casual (and if the weather permits).  Free (and plentiful) parking.

Photo Credits:  Triptych Theatre Company.

Director:  Eric Hunnicutt
Scenic Design:  Scott Schuster
Lighting Design:  Kevin Fulton
Sound Design:  Rick Reid
Costume Design:  Caroline Smith
Production/Stage Manager:  Lara Maerz

Doug:  Jamie Wollrab

Kayleen:  Laila Ayad

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