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Theater Review: 'Gruesome Playground Injuries' -- 3 stars


Gru Credit: Handout

Gruesome Playground Injuries

3 stars

Rajiv Joseph, who was unknown to most theatergoers last year, has somehow morphed into the country’s hottest young playwright.

Robin Williams is about to star in his play “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” -- a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for drama -- on Broadway. And now comes the Off-Broadway premiere of his intense two-character comedic drama, “Gruesome Playground Injuries.”

It follows a man and woman, played by Pablo Schreiber and Jennifer Carpenter, who act in physically and emotionally self-destructive ways from ages 8 to 38. The scenes are presented out of chronological order, with screen titles used to fill us in on their ages and self-inflicted injuries at the time.

When they first meet, Doug and Kayleen are stuck in a school nurse’s office. She is lying on the bed with stomach problems, and he’s cut his forehead after copying Evel Knievel and riding his bike off the school roof. Fascinated, she touches his wound and their strange friendship begins. But whereas Doug is wild and “accident prone,” Kayleen is withdrawn and sad.

In the ensuing years, Doug becomes unpredictably dangerous — to the point where he blows out one of his eyes in a fireworks accident — while Kayleen begins to cut herself and becomes dependent on drugs. Their relationship, while not overtly romantic, is genuinely necessary for them both.

Schreiber and Carpenter deliver strong performances that highlight their characters’ extreme fragility, loneliness and psychological damage.

As the title implies, the content can be both intense and gross — to the point that it sometimes comes off as a relentless pageant of masochistic pain.

The play’s biggest problem, however, is that it lacks a compelling resolution because the scenes are presented in nonlinear order. Still, it remains a daring and original character study.

If you go: “Gruesome Playground Injuries” plays at Second Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St., 212-246-4422,

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