Rarely do we recognize life's pivotal moments as they are happening, especially when we are 8 years old.
But a single, fateful moment forever links the two characters in Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries, Boise Contemporary Theater's latest production, which takes audiences along on a riotously funny, yet touching journey through three decades of two messed-up but deeply connected people.
When we first meet Kayleen (Lesley Shires) and Doug (Dwayne Blackaller), they are precocious 8-year-olds in the school nurse's office--Kayleen suffering from a stomachache, Doug from the effects of riding his bike off the school roof.
From there, the play time travels back and forth across their complex lives. As it unfolds, audiences realize how deeply troubled Kayleen is and the depths of Doug's devotion. Both are self-destructive in their own ways, but connected so deeply they are dependent on each other.
The pace is fast but not overwhelming, and director Maureen Towey makes the most of a minimal set and talented actors. Blackaller and Shires portray the characters between the ages of 8 and 38 and manage to embody the essence of each age, which is a large part of why the production is successful. It's a marathon for the actors, who never leave the stage. Every set and costume change is done in full view of the audience, creating both a seamless production and an unusual familiarity with the actors in their underwear.
Special kudos to sound designer Peter John Still, whose subtle sound effects (the squeak of a playground swing, the echo of an ice rink) create the perfect atmosphere. A tip of a slightly bloody hat to costume and makeup designer Sarah Maiorino for several effects that make the audience squirm.
It's hard to leave Gruesome Playground Injuries not feeling both uplifted and reflective--it's a heady combination.