Theater Review

Pain takes two paths in Ground Up’s ‘Gruesome’


If you go

What: ‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ by Rajiv Joseph

Where: Ground Up & Rising production at Artistic Vibes, 12986 SW 89th Ave., Miami

When: 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday through Sept. 28 (ASL interpreter Sept. 28), 2 p.m. matinee Oct. 6

Cost: $15 (students $10, all tickets cash only)


The peripatetic Ground Up & Rising, which has performed in more places than just about any other South Florida theater company, is back, this time in the groovy Artistic Vibes space near the Falls Shopping Center in south Miami-Dade County.

With Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, the company has found an intimate, challenging play for its newest venue. Director and Ground Up cofounder Arturo Rossi has a strong two-person cast in Sheaun McKinney (another Ground Up founder who was, like Rossi, featured on the first season of TV’s Graceland) and Valentina Izarra.

Though the play isn’t as provocative or obviously significant as Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize, this taut two-hander offers a quirky, unsettling look at how literally painful life can be.

With a ritualistic style and structure, Gruesome Playground Injuries follows the lifelong physical and emotional misadventures of Dougie (McKinney) and Kayleen (Izarra), first encountered as 8-year-olds in the nurse’s office at their parochial school. Doug has hurt himself by playing Evel Knievel, deliberately riding his bike off the school’s roof. He confesses to Kayleen, whose aching stomach is acting up yet again, that he likes to get stitches because, he says, “It makes my skin feel tight.”

Thus is born a mutual fascination with the physical woes and wounds that represent the characters’ deeper psychological pain.

The play checks in with Doug and Kayleen at different moments in their lives, over a period of 30 years, though the visits aren’t chronological. Each scene provides a puzzle piece that helps to illuminate these two damaged souls, a guy and gal who are (however perversely) perfect for each other, though their longing never seems to be in synch.

Each scene is a snapshot, a device underscored by director Rossi as a wordless photographer who captures the place (hospital, school, psychiatric ward) and time of each encounter. Moving gracefully in a choreographed way, the actors achieve their time-traveling simply, changing shoes, Kayleen altering her hairstyle, Dougie adding a bandage that conceals a horrifying eye injury.

Izarra is very much the adult actress playing a kid in the childhood scenes, but her Kayleen impressively ripens into a furious, damaged, self-destructive woman. McKinney brings just enough rough-and-tumble whimsy to little Dougie, and he makes the grown-up Doug’s longing for Kayleen, the character’s belief in her healing powers, utterly convincing.

One tweak that would help the production: The actors need to project better, as some dialogue becomes almost unintelligible. In Gruesome Playground Injuries, the words and the wounds are inextricable.

Read more Performing Arts stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category