Gruesome Playground Incidents: the blood bond between friends is a many-splendoured thing. A Fringe review.

Evan Hall and Merran Carr-Wiggin in Gruesome Playground Incident. Photo supplied.

By Liz Nicholls,

Gruesome Playground Injuries (Stage 8, Old Strathcona Performing Arts Centre)

“Does it hurt?”

Ah, there’s the question that haunts the couple in this morbidly funny, sweetly gore-spattered little play by Rajiv Joseph.

And the answer, in one way or another, is invariably yes. In the course of eight out-of-order encounters over 30 years Kayleen (Merran Carr-Wiggin) and Doug (Evan Hall) are always assessing the damages. They have to. From age , at intervals till age 38, they meet in  nurse’s offices, emergency wards, hospital wards, ICUs, mental institutions, funeral parlours.

“Age 8: Face Split Open.” “Age 23: “Eye Blown Out.” “Age 18: Pink Eye.”

It’s a friendship — and always maybe something more — sworn in blood. And stitches, bruises, bandages, crutches. Pain and scars that are not just physical. Ron Jenkins’s beautifully acted production finds the delicate chemistry in this. 

It’s wincingly funny, and it’s just the right amount of intense for a push-pull advance-retreat relationship that’s nearly a romantic comedy, but never quite and sometimes in reverse. And it’s too rueful for tragedy. Like Doug’s record with roofs, handlebars, telephone poles, it’s a matter of risks and near-misses, long gaps. And rehab. 

Doug is the impulsive, accident-prone one, if you use a definition that could include riding his bike off the school roof, or climbing telephone poles in the rain. The empty eye socket is, he concedes cheerfully, a drag. But it wasn’t his good eye anyhow, it was the one “that girl skated over.” Hall captures this quality in an appealingly eager way.

The troubled Kayleen isn’t optimistic like that; she’s prickly, resistant, guarded. Her disturbances are more psychological, and involve cutting and throwing up. Carr-Wigging unerringly captures her reluctant curiosity and sullen retreats. 

Carr-Wiggin and Hall are returning to roles they first played five years ago, age 23, in a series of vignettes that wonders, serially, about the might-be’s and the might-have-been’s. Jenkins’s production segues between vignettes with music, the angles of a single hospital bed, and the addition of costume pieces from a series of onstage bins.

And “does it hurt?” floats through it all. The Achilles tendon is a tricky repair. The heart is more problematic still.

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