Review: GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES at Kirkwood Performing Arts Center

Slaten and Williams Bring Drama and Trauma to the Rep

By: May. 07, 2023
Review: GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES at Kirkwood Performing Arts Center
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The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis' production of Rajiv Joseph's Gruesome Playground Injuries is a tense minimalist drama filled with tension, black humor and plenty of bandages. Presented with no intermission, this intimately staged production is a powerful examination of physical and emotional distance.

Meeting as eight-year-olds in their school nurse's office, Doug and Kayleen are quite a pair. She has a stomachache, he has facial cuts after attempting a rooftop stunt. Their meeting seems innocent enough. Both are young and curious. Each carry with them emotional baggage that is waiting to be unpacked. The pair don't know it yet, but this chance encounter is the beginning of a physical and psychological bond that will span three decades.

There is a lot of PTSD happening here. Told in nonlinear time, their story is a series of reconnections and missed opportunities. Over these years, the effects of alcoholism, bad relationships and family dysfunction complicate their relationship, testing the unspoken connection they share. Separated by time and distance, each recombination finds the duo experiencing rage, tears and regret as they struggle with the vulnerability and love that intertwines their souls.

Director Becks Redman's production utilizes onstage costume changes, dark red carpeting and mirrored walls to confine the couple's physical and mental fractures. This staging allows the tautness to build each time Doug and Kayleen's lives intersect.

This lifelong union of an amateur daredevil and a masochist is brought to life by two extremely talented leads. As Doug, Brian Slater returns to The Rep to deliver a flawed, broken and gentle character whose playful innocence and adolescent goofiness squanders valuable time.

His captivating performance is matched note for note by Jessika D. Williams, whose dynamic Rep debut presents Kayleen as a layered woman who has become jaded and bitter. Sifting through the tumult of her character's life, she brings the weariness and frustration to the surface, giving audiences a strong woman, whose personal trauma has hardened her to finding love.

While it is exceptionally acted and compactly paced, the demeanor of Gruesome Playground Injuries may not be everyone's cup of tea. The rough subject matter, language and heavy-duty angst may be too much for some audiences. However, those that brave the storm are rewarded with an outstanding production about how two friends, drained by life and worn away by time, find a lifelong connection.

Gruesome Playground Injuries runs through May 13th at the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center,139 S Kirkwood Rd. For more information, visit