My childhood scrapes and stitches have nothing on Gruesome Playground Injuries, a play by Rajiv Joseph that inflicts physical and emotional wounds on its characters. F.I.T.R. Productions presents a new mounting of the play, which has not been in New York since last year’s production at Second Stage Theatre. Gruesome Playground Injuries follows childhood friends Kayleen (Jaz Zepatos) and Doug (Priyank Rastogi) from their first meeting at the school nurse’s office to their troubled adolescence and adulthood, which often takes place in hospital rooms. Doug physically falls apart after a series of violent incidents, but he never gives up on his friendship with Kayleen, even when Kayleen is determined to break away from it.
At first, it seems that Gruesome Playground Injuries has much to say with its gory concept. The graphic nature of Doug’s wounds, though not fully depicted on stage, are still shocking to hear described. Even more shocking is Kayleen’s reactions to his injuries. She is fascinated by them, even going so far as wanting to touch them. (My inner germaphobe winces at the idea.) But underneath the bloody trappings is just another relationship play where things never quite work out. Kayleen spends the majority of the play pushing Doug away, and it is never explained why that is the case. (A “she’s just not that into you” would have sufficed.) Neither is Doug’s constant need to thrust himself into dangerous situations that nearly cost him his life. While the morbid metaphor is present, more can be said in Gruesome Playground Injuries about relationships and the pain they can cause.
Though the source material could use more development, F.I.T.R. makes a capable go of it. Priyank Rastogi plays Doug with so much charm that I wanted to hug him (and offer him a life-time supply of bandages). As Kayleen, Jaz Zepatos takes on the challenge of playing someone who has difficulty connecting to others while imbuing the character with vulnerability. Set design by Laura Moss provides an ominous complexity to the production, as hanging wire forms, wearing the characters’ costumes, line the stage walls. We never quite see the inner workings of Rajiv Joseph’s characters, but we can appreciate how dark and dysfunctional they can be.