By Tang Rei-En
Rounding off Pangdemonium’s 2013 season, centred on the idea of “survival”, was Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries. An unorthodox romance that jumps across different time periods, Gruesome Playground Injuries serves as a reminder of the demons we all face and the power of an enduring, timeless friendship.
While I personally feel that Gruesome Playground Injuries was the weakest production of this season, it was still wonderfully executed. The play is a two-actor show, with Seong Hui Xian playing the sarcastic Kayleen and Alan Wong playing the effervescent Doug.
The plot of Gruesome Playground Injuries is deceptively simple: we watch the lives of Kayleen and Doug unfold over a 30-year period, starting from when they first meet at eight years old. Kayleen is hateful and angry at life, and expresses this hatred in certain injurious ways, while Doug is curiously accident-prone, always wearing a new injury when he enters each scene. The play follows the development of their friendship and traces the ways in which this pair of best friends enter and exit each other’s lives, trying to find solace in each other as their emotional and physical scars start to accumulate.
The chemistry between Doug and Kayleen was painfully lovely to watch. Seong and Wong play off each other extremely well as their characters navigate their complicated feelings for each other while attempting to break out from their self-destructive spiral. From the start, you could see the way the two balance each other out: Doug’s almost maniacal energy to Kayleen’s more reserved sardonic calm. They grow on you, and you can’t help but be drawn into their friendship.
Despite the shaky start (the two seemed rather uncomfortable playing eight-year-old versions of their characters), Seong and Wong eased into their roles as the play went on. Although the pacing could have picked up at some points, it did not detract from the power of the scenes.
What I loved about Gruesome Playground Injuries was the raw earnestness that the two actors brought to their characters. There was a sense of poignancy that permeated each scene, and at times it became almost too heart-twistingly unbearable to watch these moments of sincere, almost-naked emotions on stage.
The set was also amazingly done; I spent a few minutes at the start of the play just staring at the backdrop. Long planks of wood, screw-drivers, pliers, and even broken stone angels and a dented BMX bicycle were strung up in neat lines to form the backdrop, with neatly-defined rectangles of space for entrances and exits. These items were mementos from the characters’ different stories, and mirrored the dangerous beauty of Doug and Kayleen’s friendships – a stark reminder of the streak of destruction that runs through them both.
And while the play holds no answers (and no concrete endings), perhaps the message is in the journey that Kayleen and Doug take; that something beautiful can always arise from what we may think of as irreversibly damaged souls.
Gruesome Playground Injuries ran from 31 October – 10 November 2013.