Let's say that through some cosmic accident, you can only go to one show this weekend. Please, please, please make it Gruesome Playground Injuries. Not because you're guaranteed to like it, but because whether you like it or not, Houston's theater world hasn't seen anything as fresh and different as this in years.
The show, making its world premiere in a run that closes Sunday, is part of the Alley Theatre's New Play Initiative. Playwright Rajiv Joseph (known to audiences for his Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo), has written a story about two people, Kayleen, played by Selma Blair, and Doug, performed by Brad Fleischer, who meet as children and spend the next 30 years wandering in and out of each others lives, their reunions most often as not prompted by some tragedy or injury. (Kayleen is prone to psychological hurts, while Doug prefers the physical kind.)
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Besides the excitement over having bright, young Rajiv in town for the show, there was lots of pre-opening night buzz about Selma Blair. She been a screen favorite with respectable performances in Cruel Intentions (she was the target of Sarah Michelle Gellar's rage and manipulation) and Legally Blonde (she played Reese Witherspoon's academic and social rival). But Blair proves that she's equally appealing onstage. She turns in a nuanced and understated performance as the damaged Kayleen.
Brad Fleischer plays Doug with a dopy charm and an infuriating belief that everything will be all right despite mounting evidence to the contrary (there's a series of broken bones, self-mutilation, and broken hearts intermingled with date rape, death, and an ill-aimed bottle rocket).
Rarely does Hair Balls think set designers deserve any special recognition (you build a fake wall, you make a fake tree, it's usually just a backdrop to the action), but Riccardo Hernandez's minimalist creation is more than mere scenery. With just a bed, a chair and four long tables topping storage cabinets, Hernandez creates a landscape where Kayleen and Doug alternately embrace, and then push each other away. Symbolic, functional, innovative, and surprising, the set is as much a character as Kayleen or Doug. (And, without giving anything away, we suggest you watch out for a magical moment when Kayleen mixes what is supposedly blood with clear water, perfectly reflecting the swirl of confusion, desperation, and resignation the characters -- and audience -- are feeling.)
See Gruesome Playground Injuries at 8 p.m. Friday, 2:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday, and 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday. Through November 15. 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit www.alleytheatre.org. $21 to $55.