Review: GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES by JAKARTA PLAYERS Cuts Deeply into Friendship and Trauma

The production runs from May 12th through 14th at Raffles Christian School.

By: May. 13, 2023
Review: GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES by JAKARTA PLAYERS Cuts Deeply into Friendship and Trauma
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Disclaimer: The main writer of the article is involved in the production as sound board operator. This article is written using feedback from additional contributors: Z.S. and Y.F.

JAKARTA PLAYERS, one of the longest-running community theater in Jakarta, returns to the stage with Rajiv Joseph's GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES following a 3-year hiatus during the pandemic. This two-actor show offers a thought-provoking look into the complicated nature of a human relationship told through a series of non-linear vignettes.

In this production, the role of Doug is played by Heriska Suthapa, a JAKARTA PLAYERS mainstay; playing opposite him as Kayleen is Kania Alisjahbana, a relative newcomer to the Jakarta theater scene, in her first leading role. The show is directed by thespian and writer Kiki Suryana.

GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES follows the lives of Doug and Kayleen, two friends who meet at a Catholic school at the age of 8 years old, through their adolescence and adulthood, until they're 38 years old. In the three decades that ensue, the pair's paths seem to cross during moments after one or both of them suffers a physical injury.

Review: GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES by JAKARTA PLAYERS Cuts Deeply into Friendship and Trauma

In this play, physical trauma and emotional trauma mingle and mix; the characters' pleas for their (very physical, and portrayed in gruesome detail) wounds to be touched can be seen as a metaphor for longing for human connection. The knowledge that there's someone who doesn't mind to interact so intimately with them even during the most grisly circumstances brings comfort to Doug and Kayleen; and when that request for contact is rebuffed, it might hurt more than a missing eye or tooth.

Told in a non-linear fashion, Rajiv Joseph's script is highly intelligent and intriguing, the type of story that you'd like to experience more than once just to put the pieces together. A line of dialogue might hide a deeper meaning that would only come to light in a later scene. The non-chronological order makes for an exciting storytelling technique, although it also might come across as confusing at times.

Considering the show features only two characters, and with a minimalist set design akin to a black box theater, its success hinges on the cast's acting prowess first and foremost. So did they pull it off?

Review: GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES by JAKARTA PLAYERS Cuts Deeply into Friendship and Trauma

As Doug, Heriska Suthapa got the chance to showcase just how much his acting has improved. The JAKARTA PLAYERS veteran comes across as more polished, confident, and intelligent than his previous roles. He highlights the right moments with just the right amount of emotional intensity. When Doug explodes in anger on behalf of Kayleen, we share his rage.

His acting especially impresses in portraying the different stages in the life of Doug; you can definitely trace the evolution of Doug's character through the ages, as the weight of reality and incidents wear him down. Yet he keeps the same wide-eyed optimism underneath the layers of scars, and it's this subtle consistency to the character that realizes his character as a person.

As humans bound in the here and now, it is hard for us to notice just how much we - and the people around us - change ever so slightly from year to year, decade to decade; thus, this show offers a fascinating look to just how much people change (and how much we stay the same) by having the same cast portray both characters throughout their lives.

Review: GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES by JAKARTA PLAYERS Cuts Deeply into Friendship and Trauma

Playing opposite him is Kania Alisjahbana. As her first turn in a leading role, it is readily apparent that she's got the potential to be a remarkable actress. Kayleen is not an easy role; she's just as complex, scarred, and full of contradictions as her childhood friend.

The interaction between Doug and Kayleen is the most delicious when they engage in sharp banter, or when they share a surprising tender moment. And, for the most part, Heriska and Kania succeed in presenting these moments.

However, there are times where Kania sounds a bit too repetitive in her delivery, especially when her character is being annoyed or standoffish. There are also a few instances where her volume is rather quiet, making some lines lost or obscured (it should be noted that this production doesn't use microphones for its actors).

Review: GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES by JAKARTA PLAYERS Cuts Deeply into Friendship and Trauma

As a result, some of the character's vulnerable moments feel too guarded, making the complicated relationship between Doug and Kayleen a bit cold. Still, her dedication to taking on this meaty role so early in his career is laudable, and it would be a delight to see her future roles.

That being said, when the show works, it's truly something special. Kayleen's deeply buried feelings, Doug's unrelenting warmth, and the complex relationship between them that denies categorization: neither friends, nor lovers, yet just as precious as either.

In terms of production design, director Kiki Suryana opts to go for a minimalist direction, with a few boxes standing in for beds, benches, and whatever is needed to portray the physical setting of the scenes. While this approach works fine to put the focus on the acting, it doesn't do much to clarify the order and location of the scenes.

Review: GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES by JAKARTA PLAYERS Cuts Deeply into Friendship and Trauma

The prudent blocking and lighting design (also by Kiki) help in spotlighting the right climactic moments of the play (though there are a few times where the characters' faces are too dark).

Additionally, the show plays around with the scene change; instead of having the actors go backstage to change their outfit and make-up, they do it right on stage, lit by ring lights. This little touch serves to further the feeling of raw vulnerability, like we are peeking into the performers' bare souls.

All in all, this production of GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES is a welcome return to the stage for JAKARTA PLAYERS. It has all the elements emblematic of the community: a slightly off-beat script with elements of dark humor, an intimately small theater, and putting the characters first. While the show might feel stripped down, it is remarkably well-put-together, with all the elements coming together in harmony.

GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES is still running until Sunday, May 14, 2023. Visit @jakartaplayers on Instagram for ticket details.



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