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Gruesome Playground Injuries

November 6, 2013
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GruesomePlaygroundInjuries1(picture courtesy of Pangdemonium Productions)

Event: “Gruesome Playground Injuries” by Pangdemonium Productions
Venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio
Run: 31st Oct – 10th Nov 2013

Bleeding Love

Hot on the heels of the mind-blowing musical “Next to Normal” comes the second Pangdemonium production in barely two months, in the form of the intimate two-person play “Gruesome Playground Injuries”.

How Tracie, Adrian and the rest of the team quite managed to stage it so shortly after the closing of “Next to Normal” is anyone’s guess, and one wonders if Halloween (which coincided with opening night) had anything to do with it.

2013 has indeed been a year of difficult, hard-hitting plays for Pangdemonium, first starting off with “Rabbit Hole”, which dealt with a couple’s grief over their lost son, and then “Next to Normal”, which explored the subject of mental illness in the form of a musical.

“Gruesome Playground Injuries”, written by Rajiv Joseph, follows largely in the same mould, and charts the course of Kayleen (Seong Hui Xuan) and Doug (Alan Wong) from ages 8 to 38, and how their lives intertwine so tragically.

Its chronology is presented in a non-linear fashion, and even though the opening scene starts with the two 8-year-olds first meeting each other in the school nurse’s office, the rest of the play often jumps back and forth in time, with the current year being communicated to the audience via the actors writing it down with chalk at the front of the stage, as well as through the playing of pop songs from that particular year to segue into each scene.

The playwright utilises the the unifying device of physical injury – having the careless and injury-prone Doug pick up a fresh injury every time the two meet in each scene, be it having his face cut up via a biking accident, or getting bruised and battered after engaging in a brawl, or (gasp!) losing an eye due to a fireworks accident.

In fact, in almost every scene the two characters meet precisely because of a new injury Doug picks up, which then serves as the inciting incident for the drama that ensues.

Some may view the device as merely a theatrical gimmick, but upon further examination one soon realises that the physical pain that Doug constantly suffers through injury (often at the expense of Kayleen) essentially serves as a metaphor for a deeper and far more excruciating form of emotional pain that the two of them share, because of the fact that for some reason or other they have never been able to make their relationship work.

They may have been the proverbial soulmates for each other right from the start, but a confluence of factors – some self-inflicted, others purely through bad luck – have conspired to keep them both physically and emotionally apart for much of their lives, and towards the end, when all the hits finally take their toll, they both realise that they’ve been broken beyond repair.

Seong Hui Xuan and Alan Wong put in riveting performances which compel you to sit engaged through the entire 90 minutes.

Hui Xuan excels particularly in the younger scenes, but lacks a certain sense of weariness and disillusionment in her later years which could have made her character even more convincing, while Alan is enthralling as the wide-eyed, devil-may-care character, although slightly overacting in the opening scene as an 8-year-old.

The set design by Philip Engleheart is a masterpiece – a collection of dangerous objects that are hung to create a dynamic looking backdrop, with the objects all having been mentioned in the play at some point or other, such as the hockey stick, the fireworks, and the bicycle.

Ultimately, at the heart of “Gruesome Playground Injuries”, beneath all the blood and gore, lies a tragic story about love lost and missed opportunities.

It makes you realise that not all love stories get to have a happy ending, and this is the true scar that Doug and Kayleen are eventually made to bear, because many a times in life, what hurts deepest are the things that remain unseen.

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