GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES presented by Know Theatre of Cincinnati through Nov. 5. You can read the show description here.
To paraphrase the Urban Dictionary, “Don’t hate the players, hate the play.”
For me, the script had the feel of a dusted-off writing assignment, more gimmicks than polish. Each scene involves one or both of the characters in some kind of physical trauma. In a way, jumping around in time is used to hide the seams of the story. (I did very much enjoy that scene 7 takes place prior to scene 2, allowing the audience to be in on the joke. I just wish there were more payoffs like this in the script.) The dark comedy comes more from the shocks and the situations, not from the characters. It left me wanting more information about these characters and their situations. I don’t mind walking away from a play without all the answers, but I prefer the questions to be better.
Jens Rasmussen and Beth Harris give strong performances as Doug and Kaylee under the solid direction of Drew Fracher. I just wished the script provided them better challenges.
Adding to the actor’s burden of the 80 minute, intermission-less performance is having them do their six costume changes on stage, with the make-up changes projected onto upstage screens. Their hard work to streamline these changes is easily apparent. The choreography of these changes becomes performance art and gives the average theater-goers a glimpse behind the backstage wall. I’m not sure if this choice comes from the script, but aside from double-casting the show, I understand the need/reasoning behind it.
However, as someone who works backstage, I found myself becoming more emotionally invested in the actors getting back on stage than in what was happening on stage. Lights coming up, with actors in place, almost came with a sense of relief that they “made it.” This, plus the fact that most scenes had at least one of the characters who was mobility “challenged,” caused the pacing to suffer.
The set design by Andrew Hungerford works (mostly) well for playing areas. I wasn’t bothered by the length of the set, but I think it would have been better to shorten the depth of the set by a foot or two. Each playing area was scaled larger than needed for each scene. This would have given the audience a bit more breathing room. Eighty minutes packed in like sardines, with no air conditioning or even air movement, is not conducive to enjoying a night at the theater. I expect that at the Fringe Festival, but not during your season at your home facility. Also a ramp of some kind to take the final scene onto the set and off the floor would have been welcome. For me, struggling to see is an immediate disconnect with the action on stage.
Bottom line, Know promises alternative theatre and with GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES they are keeping their end of that commitment. I really think your enjoyment of this work depends on your emotional reaction to it. You just read mine. But if you don’t go, how will you know how you’ll react? It’s a perfect beginning to a night out and you’ll certainly have something to discuss afterwards over dinner and drinks.
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