Grappling with Self Renewing Injuries | Sunday Observer

Grappling with Self Renewing Injuries

11 November, 2018

‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ is a two character stage play written by U.S playwright Rajiv Joseph. This play was staged as a Sri Lankan production by The Broken Leg Theatre Company and marked the directorial debut of young theatre practitioner Lihan Mendis, who has over the years proven his prowess as a thespian of Colombo’s English theatre. Thus ‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ gave theatregoers more than a glimpse of what this accomplished young actor can offer as a director. Seated under the gentle darkness of the Punchi Theatre, yours truly caught ‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ on October 14 – the closing night of the play’s three day show run.

Two seasoned thespians of the English theatre – Shanaka Amarasinghe as Doug and Imani Perera as Kayleen brought to life on the boards of the Punchi Theatre a story of two people connected by varying degrees of pain, subconscious self-hatred, mercurially unstable emotions, and among other things, a quirky frictional bond that seems like the ends of two magnets that keep spinning in two orbits with moments of intense attraction only to switch to repulsion the moment the two similar poles of the magnets meet. There is after all only so much pain of another one can be a receptacle to. There is no infinite sweetness in being the eternal bearer of another’s bleak agony.

And, any hope of having a relationship with a lasting bond of love cannot be based at the bottom of an abysmal pit whose bottom keeps sinking into darker, murkier depths refusing to see the light. The characters of Doug and Kayleen thus represent those who have willed themselves to believe that unhappiness is their inescapable inheritance. This is in a way to my understanding a story of two people indulgently romancing self defeatism, self loathing and self pity.

Human psychology

Quite apart from what the ‘script’ of this play offers as a means to develop ‘performance’, what Joseph’s story shows at the level of understanding human psychology is how varying degrees of pain work between people to create propinquity through interaction while also looking at emotional pain, hurt as mental energies that work as two ends of a magnet.

Two similar forms of pain exploding at similar velocities simultaneously may not, on the premise of common ground, create propinquity. Interestingly, the narrative which shows Dough and Kayleen across scenes as children, teenagers, and adults make their lives in relation to each other, seem ‘fatedly dichotomic’.

With two beds, a couple of folding chairs, and a wheelchair that made up pretty much the sum total of the props onstage of this two actor eight scene play, Mendis delivered a patently minimalist stagecraft which tastefully achieved the principal objective which would be to signify the basic tenets of the environment Doug and Kayleen are to be found in as they move across time and premises. Quite apart from the stagecraft, there was no realist theatre craft intention visible in the director’s approach since the very change of scenes involved the actors changing costumes under dimmed lights on stage assisted by backstage crew, in full view of the audience. Another notable facet of this production was how the audio element, through music, was devised to be a ‘space filler’ to quell what would have otherwise been silence between scenes.

Dance floor

I must say, the music medleys were good. However, during the scene where Doug and Kayleen are in the sickroom during what is presumably their school’s ‘junior prom night’ at one point, I noted how in the medley of music played as music from the dance floor which the characters had disentangled from, House of Pain’s ‘Jump Around’ (a very popular dance floor number back in the 90s) was followed by Snap’s ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’, which by my discerning of how dance floor music of the 90s used to flow, are not two tracks that would generally work on a similar vibe and rhythm one after the other. But, as I do not by any means purport to be an expert on disc jockeying, I admit this point is open for correction.

Looking at the performance on the acting front I would say Imani Perera delivered a good, ‘tangibly sublime’ flow of emotions and flux of demeanours to portray Kayleen through her character’s different ages. Shanaka Amarasinghe was quite convincing as the childhood Doug in the opening scene set in their kindergarten years while his performance as a teenager seemed a bit terse and strained at times.

However, one may ask what was Amarasinghe directorially required to play? Doug’s character came out as clearly being not the brightest boy in school. An emotionally driven person who perhaps doesn’t or can’t do a good job of keeping his feelings in check, given to impulsiveness which makes him (perhaps) consequentially, a person with a propensity to suffer physical injuries and heighten his emotional baggage. If Doug’s character is meant to be read in the light of that ‘character setup’ I would say Amarasinghe did a decent job onstage.

As his directorial debut Mendis clearly took on a script that was not overambitious and within a logistically manageable ambit. This production displayed his resourcefulness for creativity without needlessly overstepping the mark for spectacle adducing through gimmickry which some directors may feel the need to resort to when the script speaks too starkly of sparseness for ‘spectacular action’ to enliven the stage. While Gruesome Playground Injuries is a creditable debut for Mendis one hopes he will explore scripts that will test his vision as a director to craft innovative narratives onstage to enrich Sri Lanka’s English theatre.

Closing night

The Broken Leg Theatre Company must be congratulated for what they achieved through ‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’. The production’s sponsors –Thotalagala Hotel, a plantation house hotel in Haputale, and Drive One (Pvt) Ltd, must be applauded for supporting this well executed amateur theatre production.

The closing night of ‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ which was well attended, elicited robust applause at curtain call, applause which this reviewer feels were well earned by the director and the whole production team that offered theatregoers in Colombo a worthy production.