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Review: Goofy intensity overcomes 'gruesome injuries' in Stageworks production

Erik Lurz and Betty-Jane Parks save each other in this Stageworks piece.

Photo by Midge Mamatas/Stageworks

Erik Lurz and Betty-Jane Parks save each other in this Stageworks piece.

The title of Rajiv Joseph's play, Gruesome Playground Injuries, is no metaphor. It describes the life of the two characters who grow up together in the Stageworks production I saw Sunday.

Doug (Erik Lurz) is especially accident prone, in a daredevil sort of way — he has a bandage on his face from riding his bike off the roof of a school in the opening scene. The injuries of Kayleen (Betty-Jane Parks) are more spiritual, as well as more disturbing, such as the razor cuts she inflicts on herself.

Childhood fascination with blood and gore and sickness is the touchstone of the play, but it's mainly about the heroic, if goofy, efforts of Doug to save Kayleen from depression and mental illness, the sort of black hole that millions of adolescent girls have identified with in Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar.

Gruesome Playground Injuries, directed by Anna Brennen in a spare staging, feels a little too much like an acting school exercise, but the oddball intensity of the relationship stays with you. Parks brings a predominantly sad, waifish quality to Kayleen, while Lurz (making his professional debut) is appealingly boyish as the fearless Doug.

Each of the eight scenes in the 90-minute play (without intermission) is separated by an interlude in which Parks and Lurz change costumes onstage to sensitive pop: Frou Frou, Dum Dum Girls, Jonatha Brooke, Tori Amos, Aimee Allen. It's a nice theatrical touch to see the actors prepare, but the scene changes take up quite a lot of time and become something of a distraction.

I was struck by the similarity, in theme anyway, between Joseph's play and Disco Pigs, the Enda Walsh play about two codependent Irish teenagers that played at the Silver Meteor Gallery in March.

Gruesome Playground Injuries runs through Oct. 30 at Stageworks' at Grand Central in Channel District, 1120 E Kennedy Blvd., Tampa. $24.50. (813) 251-8984; stageworkstheatre.org.

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I wanted to like Gas and Candles, the Revolve Theatre Company production now at Gorilla Theatre, because I have long admired Elizabeth Fendrick and Richard Coppinger, who play Marlene and Frank Martin, a pair of English oldsters who resort to desperate measures when they can't make ends meet. But David Henry Wilson's comedy is so labored that it becomes a chore to watch even these experienced, excellent actors.

When Frank threatens to commit suicide because he can no longer bear the poverty of life on a government pension, Marlene cooks up a scheme in which they stage a mock siege by Irish gunmen to draw attention to their plight. Greg Milton plays the pompous deputy assistant chief constable who conducts the negotiations that ensue.

There's an appropriately drab, kitchen-sink realism to the staging, directed by Chris Jackson, but it's hard to care about the couple. Frank is given to self-pitying rants — "We're just a couple of fag-ends. I can't take any more ... no money, no food, nobody interested" — that allows Coppinger to chew the scenery shamelessly. Fendrick delivers a poised performance, but it's not enough to save the day.

Gas and Candles runs through Oct. 30 at Gorilla Theatre, 4419 N Hubert Ave., Tampa. $15-$25, with $10 student rush tickets a half-hour before curtain. (813) 879-2914; gorillatheatre.com.

John Fleming can be reached at fleming@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8716.

Review: Goofy intensity overcomes 'gruesome injuries' in Stageworks production 10/18/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 12:01pm]

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