You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Gruesome Playground Injuries

Do resist any temptation to regard Rajiv Joseph's dark comedy, "Gruesome Playground Injuries," as some warm-up act for his "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo."

Kayleen - Jennifer Carpenter
Doug - Pablo Schreiber

Do resist any temptation to regard Rajiv Joseph’s dark comedy, “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” as some warm-up act for his “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” a 2010 Pulitzer prize finalist due to open on Broadway this spring with Robin Williams. Although technically a dread “relationship play” about a destructive friendship spanning 30 years, this wondrous strange two-hander examines its subject in a spare absurdist style that finds as much humor as horror in the play’s bizarre events. Helmer Scott Ellis knows where all the laughs are buried and he leads stars Jennifer Carpenter and Pablo Schreiber right to them.

Kayleen (Carpenter, the no-nonsense sister of a serial killer in Showtime’s “Dexter”) and Doug (Schreiber, nommed for a Tony in “Awake and Sing”) meet cute in the school infirmary when they are both eight years old. Doug, who is accident prone, cut a gash in his face when he rode his bike off the school roof. Kayleen, who has a “sensitive stomach,” is in for another one of her stomach aches.

Joseph shares two important insights about Kayleen and Doug in this scene. The first thing is that they inflict pain on themselves because pain is something they can actually feel. (“Does it hurt?” they keep asking one another.) The other thing we learn is that both children thrive in a sickroom atmosphere. (Kayleen calls the infirmary a “dungeon,” which she describes as a place “where people can go to languish and get some peace and quiet.”)

Both thesps withhold condescending commentary, playing the kids with the kind of matter-of-fact naturalness that allows them to discuss their respective ailments with deadpan seriousness, the way children do. Through these flawless performances an enduring friendship is established, an unhealthy but comforting one based on co-dependency.

Over the next 30 years, Doug will continue to abuse and even lose certain important body parts. Kayleen, who has turned into a “cutter,” will keep trying to heal him.

In Ellis’s antiseptically clean production, the unadorned stage is as austere as the direct language and spotless performances.

The one indispensable piece of stage furniture on Neil Patel’s set is a hospital bed — so exposed under Donald Holder’s stark lighting you can hardly miss it. Everything else appears as needed and disappears on cue. The flat metallic surfaces of both side walls hide deep sliding drawers containing costumes and medical supplies. Downstage and sunk into the floor, the lip of the stage is lined with ice-blue Lucite cubes storing water for washing off blood.

Although time and place would seem to have no dimension in this abstract setting, titles projected on the back wall supply the children’s ages and identify the body part at risk. Scenes are played in no particular chronological order, so an eye socket that’s empty in one scene might get its eyeball back in the next.

But that’s the way it is with existential pain in Joseph’s absurdist world. If it doesn’t hurt, you can’t really feel it.

Popular on Variety

Gruesome Playground Injuries

Second Stage Theater; 296 seats; $75 top

Production: A Second Stage presentation of a play in one act by Rajiv Joseph. Directed by Scott Ellis.

Creative: Set, Neil Patel; costumes, Jeff Mahshie; lighting, Donald Holder; sound, Ryan Rumery; original music, Gwendolyn Sanford & Brandon Jay; production stage manager, Barclay Stiff. Reviewed Jan. 29, 2011. Opened Jan. 31. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.

Cast: Kayleen - Jennifer Carpenter
Doug - Pablo Schreiber

More Legit

  • Broadway-Breakfast-Split

    Variety to Celebrate Second Business of Broadway Breakfast With Thomas Schumacher, Diane Paulus and Diablo Cody

    Variety has announced the lineup for its second annual Business of Broadway breakfast presented by City National Bank. Joining the breakfast on Oct. 7 is the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions Thomas Schumacher, who will take part in the event’s keynote conversation. In his position, Thomas oversees the company’s worldwide stage productions, which [...]

  • Sue Wagner John Johnson

    Tony-Winning Producers Sue Wagner and John Johnson Announce New Venture, Wagner Johnson Productions

    Sue Wagner and John Johnson, seven-time Tony award-winning producers, announced Wednesday that they have embarked on a new theatrical business venture, Wagner Johnson Productions. Under the name, they will produce and general manage a wide scope of theater productions. One of Wagner Johnson Productions’ current projects is a musical rendition of “Almost Famous,” which will [...]

  • Sam Rockwell and Laurence Fishburne

    Sam Rockwell, Laurence Fishburne Starring in Broadway Revival of 'American Buffalo'

    Laurence Fishburne and Sam Rockwell will star in an upcoming Broadway revival of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo.” The show marks Rockwell’s first appearance on the Great White Way since his 2014 performance in the revival of Sam Shepard’s “Fool for Love.” The five-year absence saw him pick up an Oscar for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, [...]

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content