Granting new meaning to the phrase “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours,” Cockroach Theatre’s production of Gruesome Playground Injuries not only lives up to its name, it also offers a heartfelt — if slightly sadistic — Valentine’s Day alternative for those in need of something a little less candy heart-coated. Because, really, nothing screams romance like gouged eye sockets, partial stigmata and self-inflicted scars.
Rajiv Joseph’s play follows two characters, Kayleen (Felicia Taylor) and Doug (Shawn Heckler), as they crash in and out of each other’s lives over a 30-year period, generally during times of crisis or great physical pain.
“Does it hurt?” 8-year old Kayleen asks classmate Doug, in an early scene where the two first meet in their elementary school nurse’s office. She points to his bandaged head, then asks if she can touch the still-bleeding wound. It’s a one-two punch — the asking and the touching of wounds — that will repeat itself throughout the play. But the characters’ surface pain, while made strikingly real by make-up artist Georgia Richardson, pales in comparison to the internal wounds these two characters are harboring.
It’s clear early on Kayleen is the smart-mouthed yin to Doug’s recklessly stupid yang. While she internalizes her pain, creating chronic stomach issues and cutting into herself with an exacto-knife stuffed in her pillow case, Doug plays the role of the daredevil, riding bikes off rooftops, blowing out eyes with fireworks and climbing telephone poles during electrical storms. Rather than playing doctor to one another, they savor and share each other’s wounds.
Despite the seriousness of some of the play’s more painful themes, Joseph’s script is filled with a dark, masochistic humor that arises from a clever ping-pong-ing of language in which the characters, like real people, speak over and through one another. Despite the disconnect of their spoken words, Taylor and Heckler forage the deeper connection necessary to pull this play off.
Director Levi Fackrell’s decision to “stage” the between-scene costume changes was risky, but rather than detract from the scenes, it adds a kind of voyeuristic sneak peak at the “characters” while engaged in their swift shedding and re-applying of bloody wounds, along with their clothes.
Forget chocolate, gold-dipped roses and diamond rings slipped dangerously into overpriced Valentine’s Day tiramisus. This love tale hurts. It also cuts, explodes, vomits and bleeds — in a good way.
GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES Thursday-Saturday, 8 p.m., Sunday, 2 p.m., through Feb. 17; Art Square Theatre, 1025 S. 1st Street, www.flavors.me/cockroachtheatre, $15-$18