Elements Theatre Collective, the newest theater company in town, premiered last year with boom, a well-produced surreal drama not without humor and its own quirky brand of gritty reality. This year, it follows up that brilliant start with Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph, making its West Coast debut.
With a capable grip on the directorial reins is Sara Rademacher, who along with Emily Jewell is artistic director of Elements.
Like boom, this is a dramatic duet for a male and a female character. Here, Justin Stark and Marie Ponce dance a psychological and emotional tango that stretches over decades — from their meeting in the nurse’s office at age 8 to 30 years later, when both have suffered a disproportionate number of injuries to both body and soul. These two actors share an uncanny ability to portray their characters, Doug and Kayleen, at so many different ages and stages of life with thoroughly believable intensity.
As the characters move forward, and backward — stay sharp to discern where each scene falls on the timeline of their lives — there is laughter, tears and perhaps other bodily responses (a word of warning to anyone with a sensitive gag reflex).
Sarah Jane Bennett, who handled set design and lighting, worked magic with a number of cubes with hinged lids and two small benches, which were cleverly arranged to represent a host of different settings.
The actors reset the space and changed costumes between each scene in full view of the audience, and these intervals, which at first seemed unnecessarily slow and deliberate, came to be appreciated as well-choreographed interludes in the dance. Their movements as they shift cubes, stash costumes and props inside them, change clothes and even apply and remove stage makeup, are graceful and reflect fondness and respect for each other, serving to underline the bond between the characters. It is also useful for the audience to have a few moments to pause for a breath between scenes, as much raw emotion is revealed in each.
Also like the company’s first offering, this show uses several different venues in Goleta and Santa Barbara, including the back patio of Left Coast Books, Fishbon’s Pescadrome, Motion Unlimited, Java Station and an Isla Vista park, and runs through July 21. As with all of Elements’ shows, admission is free, and seats can be reserved on its website by clicking here.
The caliber of theater Elements offers is impressive, to be sure. Add in free admission and cool offbeat venues, and only a fool would pass this up. Or maybe someone who’s fallen off the swings one too many times.
— Justine Sutton of Santa Barbara is a freelance writer and frequent Noozhawk reviewer.