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The Daily Northwestern

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ is a raw reminder of the messiness of life

Zhizhong Xu / The Daily Northwestern
The Jewish Theatre Ensemble’s “Gruesome Playground Injuries” shows us a beautiful, intense relationship that can withstand all the messy, hard parts of life.

“Gruesome Playground Injuries,” produced by The Jewish Theatre Ensemble, follows a 30-year friendship wrought with grief, arguments, mental illness, physical injuries and growing pains.

Friends Kayleen and Doug, played by Communication junior Lola Bodé and Communication senior Carter Popkin, are opposites brought together by their injuries –– both emotional and physical. Despite their ups and downs, the two characters in the 90-minute play keep coming back to each other. 

The show, written by Rajiv Joseph, is a timeless relationship story held together by strong central performances that will make the audience cry, laugh and reflect on their own experiences. 

These characters first appear as eight-year-olds in the school nurse’s office, discussing their ailments as they climb on set pieces like they’re on a jungle gym. 

This provides a first glimpse at the clear roles that Doug and Kayleen play. The latter is a quiet but grounding presence as opposed to Doug’s deliriously passionate persona that Popkin flaunts around the stage. 

Over time, Doug and Kayleen inevitably grow up, and their injuries become less “playground” and more gruesome. The duo drifts apart after Doug goes to college, Kayleen’s father dies and a near-fatal injury lands Doug in the hospital.

This in-depth look of change and growing up resonates especially deep with an audience of primarily college students. It reminded me that all of us are fragile and, in times of uncertainty, it is important to find something (or someone) to cling to. 

The play doesn’t run in chronological order, with the characters jumping from ages 8 to 23 and back to 13, creating a dizzying perspective for the viewer. These jumps are sometimes jarring, as the viewer goes from playful scenes about school dances to darker adult discussions.

Still, Bodé and Popkin always bring the crowd back with clear portrayals of Doug and Kayleen. 

Even as years pass and the actors put on change after change of clothes, the audience is always reminded of who these characters are. They seldom steer away from the trope that Doug is the loud, always injured, physical comic, while Kayleen is the quieter, sarcastic friend, always ready to listen and chime in.

It is a feat for Popkin and Bodé to command the stage for 90 minutes, but they do not stop at keeping the crowd’s attention. The actors give emotional, relatable performances that do not leave viewers yearning. 

In a play with just two characters, other elements of the show play their own vital roles, something the set and music choices do well. 

Flowers taped to the Shanley walls with bandaids adorn the set, where every piece has more than one function as the play goes on.

For example, early on in the show, one piece functions as a swing for the characters. Later, it becomes a hospital bed. Every piece of the set captures the contradiction between the whimsy and playfulness of childhood with the rawness and pain of growing up. 

The bare bones set does a great job of not detracting from the performances while giving the actors something to build off of. 

Doug and Kayleen’s relationship tows the line between rom-com-esque scenes to gut wrenching arguments that bring you back to reality. At moments, you could be watching a romantic comedy in a theater —  but just when viewers begin to think that things might just work out for the two, gory injuries and the realities of life always get in the way. 

Directed by Communication junior Abraham Deitz-Green and produced by Communication junior Hayley Chisholm, “Gruesome Playground Injuries” reminds us that life is gross, messy, complex, and hard, but it gets a little easier when you find someone to go through it with.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @LydiaPlahn13

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