Bloody Children Play on Stage

by Lenise Willis

With towering monkey bars, fast-paced swings and chunky mulch that can bite tiny knees, the playground can be a minefield for small children and the battlefield only gets worse as we grow up. Exploring the difficulties of life, Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries takes puts a hilariously morbid spin on growing up.

“I think Gruesome is a beautiful play that moves beyond a cliché ‘damsel in distress and knight in shining armor’ into a deeply significant exploration of friendship and the bloodiness of growing up,” said play director Jim Wren.

The play, performed by Greensboro’s Paper Lantern Theatre Company, tracks a young girl and boy in five-year increments from age eight to 38 and captures the ridiculously complicated truth of growing up.

The story begins in an elementary school nurse’s office and continues on for 30 years through hospital rooms, waiting rooms and funeral homes. Both broken, inside and out, the two children attempt to help each other navigate life.

Wren says the play is both heartbreaking and hilarious and will resonate with the audience.

“They share a deep connection in a relationship that marks time in blood and injury, and this profound friendship constantly has the simmering romantic tension bubbling underneath,” Wren said. “Doug is fiercely protective of Kayleen and she both needs him and constantly attempts to assert her independence.”

If you think it’s hard getting older, waking up in the morning and noticing that extra gray hair, then try getting 30 years older in just one night. Well that’s exactly what these actors have to do— age from eight to 38—right on stage.

“These age transformations need to match the theatrical world, but be done absolutely truthfully,” Wren said. “The added challenge is that the playwright has constructed a non-linear world, so the actors must jump back and forth in time… it’s not a steady aging.”

Besides reliving the painful process of gaining wrinkles and body aches, the actors also have to deal with blood and lots of it.

“I love the fact that the ‘injuries’ are created in full view of the audience,”

Wren said. “In between each scene the actors ‘wash off’ the previous injury and apply the blood for the next scene. This theatricality is really exciting, and a wonderful aspect of the production.”

Amy DaLuz, co-founder of Paper Lantern Theatre Company, once again assures us that despite the play’s heavy, sometimes morbid and bloody topic, it’s still funny. Which brings to question, “Does Paper Lantern Theatre have a weird sense of humor?” DaLuz laughingly admitted that they seem to be drawn to plays that use subtle comedy to discuss difficult or emotional topics. It’s the comic relief that allows them to dig a little deeper.

DaLuz says the defining line for them when choosing a play is if, “you can get through it with laughter.”

They’ve produced plays about the apocalypse (with an Elvis impersonator), unemployment, life after prison and the Middle East.

Looking at their past seasons, producing “dark comedies” is certainly becoming their mantra, and they’re certainly filling a gap in the Triad.

“We’ve had all sorts of feedback,” DaLuz said. “I’ve heard everything from, ‘That was the best we’ve seen,’ to ‘I have no idea what I just saw.’ I love hearing that. That’s what art is all about— experiencing something different.”

From the beginning, Paper Lantern’s mission was (and still is) to bring new and exciting works to the Triad. They strive to choose lesser-known playwrights, too, especially bright women.

So far, targeting that niche has been a successful tactic for the theatre and its six seasons. “We’d love to sell more tickets, of course, but we’ve been very well received (in both Greensboro and Winston-Salem) and our core of subscribers and list of donors are growing and that’s encouraging,” she said.

She further commented that if it weren’t for the support of the arts community, like Winston-Salem Arts Council’s grant and Triad Stage’s space at a reasonable rate, the company wouldn’t be possible.

“They mean we can do this,” DaLuz said about the council’s grant and Triad Stage’s reasonably rated theatre space.’ 


Paper Lantern Theatre Company presents Gruesome Playground Injuries Friday through March 9 at Triad Stage’s Upstage Cabaret, 232 S. Elm St., Greensboro, and at Hanesbrands Theatre, 209 Spruce St., Winston-Salem, March 13-16. Tickets are $18-$23.50 depending on location and performance. Visit for tickets or more information.