Sunday, April 26, 2015


In Theatre Exile's fine production Director Deborah Block has found exactly the right funny and tender and troubling tone. Toby Zinman found the two actors, Keith Conallen and Charlotte Ford, exceptionally good.



By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

In Theatre Exile’s fine production of Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries  we follow two people-- friends, soulmates, almost-lovers--through their thirty-year relationship. Director Deborah Block has found exactly the right  funny and tender and troubling tone.

We meet the characters when they meet each other: Doug (Keith Conallen who seems to outdo himself with each performance, surely one of the subtlest, most moving actors in the city) and Kayleen (the lovely Charlotte Ford who adds, gradually, layers of self-damage to her character). They are eight years old; she’s in the school nurse’s office because she keeps throwing up; he staggers in with a grisly “broken face,” having ridden his bike off the roof. The dialogue is essence of kid: “You’re stupid.” “Shut up.” This is illuminated by sudden flashes of their individuality: “I’m not stupid, I’m brave,” he declares.“Dungeons are where people go to languish,” she says, luxuriating in that last word. 

In eight scenes—not always in chronological order—we watch Doug and Kayleen grow up. Twenty-three. Thirteen. Twenty-eight. Eighteen. Thirty-three. Back to twenty-three. Thirty-eight.

In each scene, we see some new injury, some new calamity; these are self-destructive people, injured in ways far deeper than the crutches or bandages or hospitals or wheelchairs or scars show.  Rajiv Joseph offers no easy answers: happy homelife, horrible homelife; no comfort for us in any easy causality.

We watch Ford and Conallen change costumes (designed by Alison Roberts) to get older or younger. The lighting (Drew Billau) brightens and darkens without ever signaling an “uh-oh.”  The atmospheric set, designed by Dan Boylen is terrific: dark, mottled gray walls, two cots, two lockers, and a scoreboard on the upstage wall. Each scene gets a score card— the age and the injury. The troubling fact is that the list of scenes goes up to #9, but we only see up to #8. It’s like fifth-stage cancer: they are never going to make it to scene #9.


Theatre Exile at Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre, 2111 Sansom St.. Through Dec.4. Tickets $15-40. Information: 215-218-4022 or

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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