Phantom Owl are a Los Angeles-based theatre company “presenting new American theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe.” This year presenting three plays: Fault Lines by Stephen Belber, Filthy Talk for Troubled Times by Neil Labute and Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph, plus three one-person shows as part of their Flying Solo series.
Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries is a non-linear retelling of the dysfunctional relationship between Doug, played by Brad Fleischer, and Kayleen, played by Jules Willcox. The story hops around the years of their friendship, to pinpoint the pain and misunderstanding that leads them to the realisation of their true dependency on one another. Each moment in their lives is replayed through the backdrop of various gruesome, physical or emotional injuries, which seems to be the only force strong enough to reunite this troubled pair.
Once again Phantom Owl deliver us another beautifully crafted piece of theatre. Both Fleischer and Willcox masterfully capture the physicality and mannerisms of the characters at age eight, all the way through to thirty-eight. Both actors seamlessly transition through sporadic time hops, truly defining the personalities of Doug and Kayleen with crystal clarity, allowing the audience to follow this jumpy without effort. Fleischer develops an accident-prone Doug with true craftsmanship, bringing in the whole audience and holding them close, unrelenting from start to finish. Willcox breaks each one of our hearts with a beautifully tragic Kayleen, who’s lack of genuine love results in self harm and misguided relationship choices. The emotional nature of this story, has a tendency to stay at one, fairly monotonous level of intensity, and occasionally comes dangerously close to some clichéd, American love story moments. The minimal set, that includes a bed, some shelves, and a chalk board, is perfectly manipulated by Larissa Kokernot’s skilful direction, allowing a single, simple, undressed room to become so much more. The scene changes are intriguing, if slightly vague, and sometimes linger too long, making some moments fairly redundant. The overall arc of the story comes to a touching end, with the pair together, remembering their disturbed battles with love and the scars they have left.
Reviewed by Bob Galereux