Star rating: ***
Schoolyard scrapes and bruises make way for messier grownup wounds in Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company’s Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph. A beautifully crafted production, Injuries is layered with quirky humor and poignant intensity—a crash course in growing up, getting hurt, and the healing power of love.
When eight-year-old Doug takes an Evel Knievel-inspired bike ride off the elementary-school roof, he lands in the nurse’s office with a split cheek and a vomiting classmate, Kayleen, on the next cot. The pair—played by adult actors Tim Getman and Gabriela Fernández-Coffey—make up the entire cast in the 90-minute show, which follows the accident-prone duo’s evolving relationship from nurse’s office to troubled adulthood in charmingly out-of-order sequence (a scoreboard-like set piece helps keep ages straight).
With only two characters and an intimate theater-in-the-round space, the pressure is on Getman and Fernández-Coffey to carry their dramatic weight, and for the most part both deliver. You can feel Getman’s energy as the danger-happy Doug, and he channels that passion into more dramatic scenes with ease. Fernández-Coffey’s take on the self-destructive Kayleen is a little bumpier, but by the end her complex character has filled out nicely. The leaps from ages 8 to 38 to 23 to 13 and several ages in between give the show a fresh edge and relatable honesty. But at times, especially when playing younger, the actors push too hard for almost stereotypical portrayals. Yes, 13-year-olds think gross-out humor is funny, and 23-year-olds still have some maturing to do, but in the theater’s close quarters, a little more nuance could go a long way in some scenes.
The dazzling staging by director John Vreeke does its own storytelling. The set by Misha Kachman whirls and twirls in time with the unexpectedly powerful indie soundtrack (the sound design is by Christopher Blaine). Costume and makeup changes—there are a lot of black eyes and gaping cuts—take place in plain sight, with a ballet-like rhythm and palpable emotion. Revealing those normally back stage transitions makes for a simple but moving display of passing time and building feelings.
Gruesome Playground Injuries—not appropriate for kids, by the way—captures both carefree childhood innocence and the kind of pain that needs more than a Band-Aid.