by Miryam Gordon – SGN A&E Writer

Through August 11

Azeotrope is a tiny theater company typical of a number of tiny local companies, where a couple of dedicated theater practitioners feel they have a point of view that they’d like to take charge of and present themselves. It’s headed by talented actor Richard Nguyen Sloniker, who has performed on many local stages but has demonstrated devastating range, most particularly with his own company, and Desdemona Chiang, an in-demand director in both San Francisco and Seattle in particular, who knows how to choose work that challenges and compels her. Actor/producer Serin Ngai supports.

While they have to grapple with finding venues and funds for their productions – and that can create great challenges – they have produced two top-notch productions so far: Red Light Winter in 2010 and Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train last year. This year, they are currently presenting a two-hander, Gruesome Playground Injuries by Rajiv Joseph, renting Washington Ensemble’s Little Theater (608 19th Ave. E.), and starring Sloniker and Amanda Zarr. Coincidentally, Joseph’s award-winning play, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, will be staged by WET in the fall.

Joseph’s play is nonlinear: it goes back and forth over a relationship of 20 years, hopping around to salient moments between Doug and Kayleen from ages 8 to 38. The effect of the tightly written scenes is to give an overall story of their relationship, in anything but a typical fashion. In the presentation, then, there is a kind of linear feeling to what unfolds.

Chiang has a knack for creating stupendous dramatic tension, and the 80-minute play keeps you firmly focused on stage the entire time. We first meet Doug and Kayleen as eight-year-olds in a school nurse’s office, where Kayleen is sick to her stomach – a story-long affliction – and Doug has nonchalantly broken his face by riding his bicycle off the roof of the school – his daredevil activity also a story-long aspect.

We see them at various ages – most of the time at moments where Doug has hurt himself yet again! Doug seems to long for Kayleen to see him as a love interest over time, while Kayleen depends on him but has stuck him firmly in the friend category.

We don’t get to know why these two become so close, or what they get out of their relationship – it’s a given that must be accepted. That’s either a strength or weakness in the script, depending on whether you like to think about subjects on your own or if you enjoy more fully fleshed-out information on stage. Suffice to say, if we were told more, the play would be longer, which Joseph seemed to want to avoid.

The actors are lovely at all ages. Zarr’s bio refers to Los Angeles and not to the fact that she went to the UW, and that’s where she got to know Sloniker and Chiang. We’re glad to get a chance to see her back on a Seattle stage. Sloniker and Zarr match each other mood for mood and odd emotion for odd emotion.

This production has another fantastic set design by Deanna Zibello, the award-winning designer of Jesus. The puzzle of the play is echoed in the metal grid above the stage that holds hospital curtains that slide scenes along by hiding or revealing, while the actors do a complex dance of changing costumes and removing or applying makeup. Lighting by Jessica Trundy, simple but easily adjusted costuming by Christine Tschirgi, and sound by Evan Mosher amplify the moody atmosphere.

While there are some gruesome-ish injuries on stage, it’s clear that the most severe wounds these two compelling characters suffer are internal ones. Give this show a try! For information on the company, go to, and for tickets, go to or call 1-800-838-3006.