BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
The playground in "Gruesome Playground Injuries" turns out to be the bumpy road of life and the two characters in Rajiv Joseph's new play are friends since childhood who sustain each other (or sometimes not) through their mishaps.
Opening on Monday at Second Stage Theatre, Joseph's touching drama offers an episodic account of a friendship that could be more — should be more, we eventually realize — between Kayleen and Doug, who first meet up at age eight in the nurse's office at school.
She's got a tummy ache. He has gashed his forehead by riding his bike off the roof of the school.By the time the 80-minute play concludes 30 years later, we have seen the accident-prone Doug lose a tooth, an eye and almost his life while troubled Kayleen loses her lunch, virginity and nearly her mind.
Joseph shuffles the chronological deck for his play's eight scenes, showing the characters going back and forth in age, for example, from 23 to 13 to 28 to 18 to 33. Employing such a nonlinear approach lends some foreshadowing and sharp contrasts to his tersely-written story while providing nice opportunities for the actors to exercise their range.
Notable in dramas like "Awake and Sing" and "Dying City," Pablo Schreiber is especially fine at depicting Doug in varying stages of physical maturity while subtly illuminating the torch that flickers in his heart for Kayleen. Best known for playing the ambitious sister in the TV series "Dexter," Jennifer Carpenter may not be quite as technically adept as Schreiber but her mournful voice and unsettled air effectively convey Kayleen's psychological issues.
The softly-spoken play has been sensitively directed by Scott Ellis upon designer Neil Patel's profile stage which situates viewers on opposite sides of the action. It's interesting to note that the stage floor is semi-translucent, which suggests how these people are slip-sliding their way along the thin ice of life.
"Gruesome Playground Injuries" continues through Feb. 20 at Second Stage Theatre, 305 W. 43rd St., New York. Call (212) 246-4422 or visit www.2ST.com.