GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES

Posted: August 12, 2013 in Uncategorized

The show opens en medias res with 8 year old Kayleen (played by Amanda Zarr) sitting alone in the school clinic, suffering from another bout of vomiting and stomach issues.

Soon thereafter, 8 year old Doug (played by Richard Nguyen Sloniker) enters with the first of many physical injuries that he will sustain throughout the course of the 30 year relationship that will ultimately ensue between these two school kids who are not-quite lovers, but are more than just friends.

She is an emotionally wounded and anxiety-ridden self-cutter; he, an accident prone thrill seeker. Together, they weave in and out of each other’s lives throughout the tumultuous years that comprise the overall dramatic structure of this play by Pulitzer Prize finalist, Rajiv Joseph, who is also the author of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.

Sensitively directed, by Desdemona Chang, this Azeotrope production, now playing at the Washington Ensemble Theatre, offers up some fine performances by both Zarr and Sloniker, who believably portray these two characters from the ages of 8 to 38.

Keeping true to the clinical feel of the play, whose action unravels primarily in school clinics, emergency rooms, mental wards, and hospital rooms, scenic designer, Deanna L. Zibello, uses hospital curtains to take the audience from one location in time to the other. Costume changes are done primarily  in full view. It is a simple, yet effective and appropriate way to stage this play, which has lots of grit and substance, but which is incomplete as is.

The characters are just not developed enough by the playwright. There are allusions as to why the two protagonists are so screwed up (ie. childhood abandonment, distanced and uninvolved parents, etc.), but not enough info on their background is given. Consequently, “Kayleen,” in particular, ends up seeming like an annoying, immature angsty teeenager throughout the entire show. And to be clear, this is NOT the fault of the actress, who does a great job, but rather a weakness on behalf of the playwright.

The other problem with the script is that it is only half finished. It stops when the characters reach the not so ripe old age of 38. But the way it is written, one would think that life ends at 38, especially in the way that Doug is written. By the end of the show, he is blind in one eye, wheelchair bound, and apparently knocking on death’s door. It’s kind of silly.

This is not to say that there aren’t some salient elements in this play; there ARE, and plenty of them, but with a running time of 80 minutes, it is obvious that the play is only half finished and is in need of revision, especially the ending, which merely dissipates into ambiguity.

But is this a show worth seeing? Indeed it is! And how unfortunate there were only 7 people in the audience on Saturday night, including myself.  Again, the acting is great; the direction and design are great; and even the playwriting is good, just not fully developed.tn-500_gpi1_lo

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