Sunday, June 19, 2011

Stick Your Finger in My Pain

When talking about love, a former boss always used to say, "There's a lid for every pot."

One of the oddest lid/pot combinations I've ever seen was the couple in Rajiv Joseph's play "Gruesome Playground Injuries," the subject of tonight's staged reading at Firehouse Theater.

Joseph is the theatrical golden boy at the moment because his play (and Pulitzer Prize finalist) about Iraq "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" just finished a Broadway run, making this a most interesting choice for Firehouse to stage as a reading.

Imagine two kids who meet in the school infirmary at the tender age of eight; she's throwing up non-stop and he's ridden his bike off of the school's roof. Because boys are dumb.

The immediately bond over shared maladies.

Over the next thirty years, they continue to see each other periodically, always due to one or the other's sickness or injury.

They're both damaged souls and whether it's a fireworks accident that causes Doug to lose an eye or Kayleen's self-medicating and cutting, the two continue to share a bond of personal pain throughout their friendship/love.

Like many in the audience, I kept hoping that they would acknowledge their feelings for each other, but there were always hospital beds and comas and psychiatric institutions keeping them distracted.

As with any two-actor production, even a limited one like a staged reading, it's all about the chemistry of the actors and Molly Hood and Billy Christopher Maupin, both stalwarts of the local theater scene, were terrific.

Unlike some readings where the actors sit and merely read, scenes had been blocked and there was not only movement but the actors played to one another, often emotionally.

Only occasionally did their scripts get in the way, which made the evening feel more like a production than many readings do.

Music marked scene transitions and the passage of time.

From "Signed, Sealed and Delivered" through "Every Breath You Take" to the incredibly sappy but appropriate "I Will Always love You," the music helped with the ten- and fifteen-year jumps the script made. One particularly clever device was that the scenes did not play out in chronological order, so we saw them first as children, then young adults, then teens, then slightly older adults, and so on.

A new friend and fellow theater lover found me after the show and joined me for some conversation before the finale. These readings always include a talk-back with the director and actors afterwards and I usually stay for the insight to be gained as well as hearing other audience members' interpretations to compare to my own.

Because of the troubling nature of the script (self-destructive behavior, even in a relationship play, much less blood and guts, aren't everyone's cup of tea), I wanted to hear how much others liked it.

A lot, as it turned out. A spirited discussion of how to direct, whether the characters loved each other and the use of a narrator all came up. At the end, my friend cleverly noted, "That was like the best episode of 'Inside the Actor's Studio' I've ever seen."

Don't I know it. I'll tell you what; for five bucks, Firehouse's Readers' Theater series is one of the best  entertainment values (with a capital "V") going.

I say that as a lid still in need of my pot, but one who's always appreciative of a good night's entertainment.

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