Everybody Hurts: Gesher Theater Takes on the Open Wounds of Love

'Gruesome Playground Injuries,' a play by Rajiv Joseph, an American dramatist of Indian origin, tells an endearing but painful story of two people whose only intimacy lies in touching each other’s open wounds.

Oren Biran / Studio One

“Gruesome Playground Injuries” is a Gesher Theater production of a play by Rajiv Joseph, an American dramatist of Indian origin. It’s about two people, Doug and Kayleen, who live next to each other from the age of 8 to 38. We see them in encounters that occur every five years – when they are 8, 13, 18, 23, 28, 33 and 38 – in non-chronological sequence. In each meeting they almost touch each other’s pain. They long for the intimacy of contact, but because they are unable to meet at a place that is good for both of them – perhaps a sign of our alienated generation, or of the deficient personality of each of them (and which of us is not deficient in one way or another?) – they connect through moments of pain.

It seems to me that what the playwright, and in his wake the play’s translator and director Erez Driges, are essentially after, is to expose the audience, through the actors, to the experience of an open, throbbing, bleeding wound. Perhaps this is because it is simpler to arrive at intimacy through pain rather than pleasure. Pain divests you of your defenses without your having control over the process, while pleasure requires that you forgo your defenses 
consciously, and trust the other.

Blocked feelings

This is not easy material to put on the stage credibly, nor is it easily absorbed by the audience, because pain and repulsion – the play deals in no small measure with secretions, vomit, saliva and blood – have a tendency to block feeling. Polina Adamov has designed a stage consisting of a room with multiple lockers, from which the actors take out the clothes and props they need for the different scenes. The whole stage conception of the designer and the director is based on exposing the craft of the theater: The actors change clothes and assume and shed their characters before our eyes. The main prop is a treatment bed in an emergency room, around which the two meet and next to which each of them exposes his and her wounds and asks the other to touch them.

Doug is played by Yuval Yanai, who is big, awkward, gangling and wildly raucous. He’s the aggressive and noisy one, sometimes so much so that the viewer can’t understand what he’s saying. Naomi Lvov plays Kayleen, who is neurotic, hurting, soft and piercing. The scene I liked best is the one in which they are 18 and discovering sex, when she injures herself to discover the pain of life (or to dull the inner pain) and he is ready to surrender himself to that self-inflicted wound. Yanai and Lvov sort of grope each other while he holds a utility knife and she has a red marker pen with which they draw cuts on each other’s bodies. Those are moments of painful intimacy of people who know no other way to love.

So painful it’s almost beautiful.

The next performances of the play are in the Gesher Theater Hangar in Jaffa on November 13 and December 11 and 12, all at 8:30 P.M.