The 2017 Fringe Festival (Sept 7 -17) is underway and LINK has been busy checking out select shows. In the festival creators’ own words, “The Fringe strives to break down traditional boundaries and encourage open dialogue between audiences and artists by presenting live un-juried, uncensored theatre in an accessible and informal environment.” Follow along with us and be sure to check out this year’s festival.
Gruesome Playground Injuries
Written by Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Mel Tuck
My initial response to the title Gruesome Playground Injuries was fear. Not so much fear of horrifying events; more so fear of excessively overused romantic gestures that come with modern love stories. But as I entered the theatre and viewed the bloody wrappings and hospital-like setting, I was gladly proven wrong.
The play opened with Kayleen (Gina Leon) and Doug (Michael Germant) meeting for the first time in childhood. Both sporting physical playground injuries, and internal domestic pains. Dougie, with his playful puppy-like demeanour, endeavours to soften and chip away at Kayleen’s shell. She allows him to enter her world for a few moments, but her fears of full vulnerability cause her to immediately shut down.
“You don’t even know me!” Kayleen yells at her soon-to-be best friend. Dougie sinks into himself, and subconsciously mimics Kayleen’s barrier. Kayleen finds herself knotted between her fears and her true desires. She gives into both, as she reaches out to Doug, while maintaining her tight grip on her shell. Dougie insists on laughing the pain off, which in turn allows their dynamic to move forward, while only lightly scratching beyond the superficial.
“Kayleen and Doug are just reflections of the current day romance, where patterns are hard to see and even harder to break.”
And so, the story continues with this relationship pattern for decades. The two encounter each other at strange yet fateful intervals of their lives, where their emotional pains are externalized through bizarre accidents. Their fears of perpetuating abuse, finding refuge within one another and themselves, and strengthening their friendship draws them together only enough to tear them apart again and again.
However, this isn’t your typical romanticized story of abuse. Gruesome Playground Injuries does a great job going further in-depth into the psychological aspects of cyclical romance without condoning and encouraging abuse. In my opinion, you can see that playwright Rajiv Joseph understands the human tendency to repeat mistakes, but that there are also honest intentions that move beyond history.
Although it takes decades for Kayleen and Doug to fully understand themselves and each other, they unite on mutual unsteady grounding. Maybe it seems absurd that after all this time, the two continue to reconnect with only slight changes to their emotional baggage. But then again, maybe Kayleen and Doug are just reflections of the current day romance, where patterns are hard to see and even harder to break. From childhood until now, Gruesome Playground Injuries manages to capture the scripts of friendship and adulthood in a raw yet surreal manner.
Overall, I personally would’ve preferred reading the book over watching the play since the script resonated the most with me. However, if you’re fascinated and interested in Vancouver’s local theatre community, then I would recommend that you see the play for yourself!
Q&A WITH ACTRESS GINA LEON and DIRECTOR MEL TUCK
What attracted you to the play “Gruesome Playground Injuries”?
Gina Leon: We were looking for a play that would fit the criteria for the 2017 Vancouver Fringe Festival’s Dramatic Works Series. This particular category of the festival calls for works by published playwrights and this year it celebrates playwrights of Asian descent. Rajiv Joseph, Pulitzer Prize finalist for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a playwright of mixed racial descent – was an exciting possibility. When lead actor and producer, Michael Germant, began weighing choices with director Mel Tuck, Gruesome Playground Injuries came to our attention as a piece that would fit and challenge our collaborative team (Island Productions).
It was amusing and horrifying. It was a bizarre but universal love story, raising not just one but many relevant questions like: why do we hurt ourselves to gain someone else’s love or affection? What is pain? How do we heal? Does love heal? Can we heal each other? It was clearly a piece that would stretch the actor’s process – as the lives of characters, Kayleen and Doug, intersect at the most bizarre intervals, leading the two childhood friends to compare scars and the physical calamities that keep drawing them together over the course of 30 years.
I think audiences will relate to the humorous and horrifyingly painful things we do to ourselves in the face of love.
How did reading the play for the first time make you feel?
GL: I felt like I had been punched in the gut. I was both drawn to and repelled by the painful cycle of two characters terrified to commit to love, to each other, to the greater possibility of helping each other heal.
Mel Tuck: When this very unique play was brought to me and I read it I wasn’t too sure if I wanted be involved with it. Upon further examination I became very intrigued. The surface aspects of the play seem extreme; but as it went along patterns of behaviour began to make sense and to resonate. Two very damaged people both inside and outside love each other. However, this very love brings up many fears about love and commitment. That which they need the most is the thing they fear the most.
How is this play relatable to you?
GL: Rajiv Joseph presents Kayleen through various episodes in her life where her “sensitive stomach” illustrates the torment, violence and vulnerability of feeling things deeply. I went through a period in my life where I was simply vulnerable to everything I felt deeply. I had an unhealthy way of processing my emotional life, like Kayleen. It was a real struggle to know my worth and to trust that I was lovable. The character of Doug is on a path of self-destruction. Something is missing for him and he is endlessly looking to fill this emptiness. I found myself relating to this too.
MT: Kayleen and Doug potentially could have a positive and healing relationship if they could just get past their fears of being capable of committing to that love and doing so in harmony and not at opposing times. We see that the opposite of love is not hate but fear. We often punish ourselves without knowing why. I found myself rooting and hoping for these two. I also began to see many of my own injuries in these two which led me to a deep desire to understand why. We have dug deep inside this play and ourselves to comprehend the why.
How can this play be relatable to the audience?
GL: I think audiences will relate to the humorous and horrifyingly painful things we do to ourselves in the face of love. We see Doug and Kayleen at different ages being drawn together. I think audiences will see themselves in these two characters – who wrestle with the fear of love – the very thing they need the most in order to heal.
What is your favourite scene of the play? Why?
GL: My intuitive response is to the say the first scene – Doug and Kayleen are 8 years of age. It’s the beginning of a long cycle of injuries and internal struggles that these characters undergo to get to love, but at 8 years of age – they are free, vulnerable, spirited and joyful. It’s a treat to play.
What is your least favourite scene of the play? Why?
GL: Scene FOUR is challenging. Doug is in a coma and I talk to him, willing him back to life. My niece was in a coma just two years ago after a horrific injury and I find that this scene drudges up lots of terrifying memories of not so long ago. That being said, I try to not to think of scenes in this way – if I can be totally open and loving – even when it hurts – then I am doing my job – bringing the words to life with the aspiration that the audience will feel themselves in this story or be able to relate in some context.
I hope this will inspire audience members to LOVE, no matter how fearful or terrifying it may be at times.
What do you hope audience members draw away from the play?
GL: I hope that audiences will feel deeply for these characters, as we do. I hope audiences will brave asking the question: why do we hurt ourselves in the face of love? I hope that audiences will ask the question: how do we heal? But mostly, I hope this will inspire audience members to LOVE, no matter how fearful or terrifying it may be at times. I hope that this play will ignite for viewers a love of stories and a respect for how vital and wonderful theatre can be.
Why are the themes of love, pain and friendship so important for you?
GL: Love is all we need. The Beatles, right? Well, there’s a lot of truth to this. Love covers a lot of territory, but ultimately when we do love – despite a painful or fractured past, despite our resistance to it, despite our history – we heal. Friendship in the context of this play spans over the course of thirty years, where we examine how life unfolds in a very painful way – the ups and downs. I believe that deep and abiding love in a romantic relationship is rooted in a unique friendship. Doug and Kayleen have this. They are terrified for good reason. History has taught them to fear intimacy, but on the other side of this fear is something rather wonderful and universally profound – a friendship, a love, and the ability to heal in union.