Saturday, April 22, 2023

GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES • The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis

Doug and Kayleen meet in the nurse’s office at school when they’re eight years old. He’s busted up his face after riding his bike off the school roof, and she’s got stomach problems. There’s a curious examination of each other’s wounds, external and internal, carried out with all of the contrary ardor and aversion of children, and a bond is formed. The play unfolds in non-chronological scenes spanning their decades-long friendship as they drift apart, reconnect, and attempt to mend the other’s hurts.

Gruesome Playground Injuries marks the return of the Steve Woolf Studio Series, and the intimate Strauss Black Box Theatre at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center is a perfect spot for it. Playwright Rajiv Joseph balances humor and poignancy during his sequence of vignettes, but we don’t end up learning a ton about the hapless protagonists during its 80-minute exploration of shared damages. Luckily, the direction and performances keep the play from wearing out its welcome.

Kayleen (Jessika Williams*) and Doug (Brian Slaten*).
Photo credit: Philip Hamer Photography

Brian Slaten’s unfettered enthusiasm as our reckless daredevil, Doug, keeps the proceedings buoyant. Whether he’s been courting danger with fireworks or climbing telephone poles, Slaten’s goofy energy is infectious, and his attraction to Kayleen is intense and painfully evident from the start. Kayleen’s bruises are on the inside, and Jessika Williams keeps the emotional weight of her character’s struggles just below the surface. Her teenage petulance matures to compulsive evasion, but no matter how many times she tells Doug to “shut up” or sidesteps his overtures, she’s drawn to his side when he’s acquired a new injury.

Becks Redman’s direction keeps you invested in this pair of near lovers. Their fleeting interactions between scenes as they change costumes and apply fresh cuts are a very nice touch. Diggle’s set, flushed with red, makes a bold impression as you enter the theatre. There’s a reflective sphere at one end of the stage that the actors use on occasion, and it provides a fish-eyed depth to the space. The set is carpet covered (soft surfaces for the fragile), and reminiscent of a children’s romper room, with cleverly incorporated nooks and hutches for storing costumes and props.

Gruesome Playground Injuries isn’t really interested in tidy resolutions, but is worth checking out for a uniquely drawn character study. It’s playing until May 13th in Kirkwood.

Kayleen (Jessika Williams*) and Doug (Brian Slaten*).
Photo credit: Philip Hamer Photography


Written by Rajiv Joseph

Directed by Becks Redman 

Kirkwood Performing Arts Center - Strauss Black Box Theatre, 210 E Monroe Avenue

through May 13 | tickets: $35 - $50

Post Show Talkbacks, April 27, 8pm & May 3, 7pm, Club Rep Night, April 27, Audio Described Performance, May 4, American Sign Language (ASL) Interpreted, May 6, 2pm, Open-Captioned Performance, May 7


Doug: Brian Slaten*

Kayleen: Jessika Williams*


Set Designer: Diggle

Costume Designer: Carolyn Mazuca

Lighting Designer: Anshuman Bhatia

Sound Designer: Kareem Deanes

Composer: David Gomez

Assistant Director: Matthew Cox

Stage Manager: Shannon B. Sturgis*

Production Assistant: Kentrell Jamison

Casting: Amelia Acosta Powell

* Denotes member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of

Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States

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