Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

Gruesome Playground Injuries
Actors Studio 66
Review by Dean Yannias

Also see Carole's recent review of Dracula

Robyn Casper and Jeff Jung
Photo by Linda Ferro
Having seen Rajiv Joseph's Guards at the Taj, which is more a showcase for the props crew than a play (all those severed hands), I did not have high hopes for Gruesome Playground Injuries, especially because of the word "gruesome" in the title. But I was pleasantly surprised. I would never have guessed that the same playwright could produce such dissimilar plays.

Gruesome Playground Injuries follows two self-destructive characters bouncing back and forth in time at intervals from elementary school to adulthood. They are hurting both psychically and physically. They drift apart for years at a time, but they keep coming back to each other when one needs the other. Why they act the way they do is gradually revealed, although some motivations remain inexplicable (at least to me). Some of the injuries are indeed gruesome, but very few occur on a playground. Is the implication of the title that these characters are still child-like even though many years pass?

This short description makes the play sound like a major downer, but in fact it is consistently engaging, often funny, and ultimately quite affecting. The final scene is beautifully written and performed.

One unusual aspect of the play is that the two characters are almost always on stage. They move the set pieces around and change clothes and apply makeup in view of the audience. We see what normally takes place backstage. Consequently, there are no blackouts or lulls during the 75-minute running time, which I really appreciate.

From what I have read, most productions of this play have titles for each scene, revealing the year and the age of the characters. Stephanie Grilo, who directs this production, has wisely chosen not to use those, so it makes us deduce where we are in time with each scene, searching for clues in the dialogue. You have to pay attention.

Ms. Grilo has cast two actors new to me, Robyn Casper as Kaylene and Jeff Jung as Doug. Both handle their roles very capably. You believe them as grade-schoolers, as troubled teens, and as adults who are finally growing up. Their last scene together is wonderfully played.

The set design by Stephanie Grilo and Linda Wilson is just right for this play. Kaylene's clothes and other stuff are on one side, Doug's on the other. Aptly, there are also jigsaw puzzle pieces on each side. Will they ever be put together to complete the picture? Makeup by Shaina Hovrud, sound design by Stephanie Grilo, and lighting by Banx Tenorio are all well done.

I would say, don't be put off by the title. It's not that gruesome. It's not a "Halloween play." Rather, it's a play infused with compassion and tenderness for two damaged people, and it's well worth seeing.

Gruesome Playground Injuries runs through October 15, 2023, at Actors Studio 66, Black Cat Theater, 3011 Monte Vista Blvd NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2:00. For tickets and information, please visit