On January 5th at the Station Theater in downtown Urbana is the premier of the play Gruesome Playground Injuries, by Rajiv Joseph. The play had its world premier in October 2009 at the Alley Theatre in Houston, Texas, then was performed at the Second Stage Theatre in New York City in January 2011, and finally it’s made its way to Urbana-Champaign to start out the new year. I had an opportunity to speak with director Mathew Green. Here’s what he had to say.
Smile Politely: Can you give a brief summary of this play?
Mathew Green: Kayleen and Doug meet in the school nurse’s office, age eight. They behave like kids do, but they are fascinated with each other and begin a friendship that will last the rest of their lives. Over the next 30 years, they come together and split apart at intervals, catching up the way friends do, fighting, needing each other, letting each other down.
Smile Politely: How did you go about determining the actors you thought best to express the strange dynamic between Kayleen and Doug?
Mathew Green: The casting process was pretty straightforward. I knew who I wanted, and they said yes. What I needed was a pair of actors who had good chemistry, who could convey emotional highs and lows, and who could make an audience laugh or cry. I’ve got that in Katie Baldwin and Rob Zaleski. It’s a bonus that I’ve worked with Katie and Rob before, and we have a strong rapport. We have a shorthand that makes rehearsals easy, and we trust each other.
Smile Politely: What do you believe this play is saying about modern day relationships? Is it stating that we are all brought together by our shortcomings, our scars?
Mathew Green: Shortcomings might be part of it, but I think it has a lot to do with the fact that our relationships can be superficial, disconnected. In this play we see people who are basically soul mates, but the play asks if that is always a positive thing. They are bound together, certainly, even in misery. Especially in misery. I’m hoping the audience will consider their own friendships: how well they know people; how well they want to know people. Who are the people we know best? Why do we care about them? And, of course, there’s the metaphor of scars: physical representations of deeper hurts.
Smile Politely: What do you feel is the effect of having the story told in short vignettes that span 30 years? Do you feel this structural choice is necessary to complete the play as a whole?
Mathew Green: There is a fear with this kind of structure that it can feel choppy, but these scenes are so well developed that, even in a short amount of time, we get a lovely snapshot of where these people are and what has happened to them. And I love the fact that the vignettes aren’t in chronological order. Memory can be like that. We bounce from important moment to important moment, and we don’t often know the significance of an experience until we have other moments to compare it to. Context is important.
Smile Politely: Why did you choose to bring this play to the Station now? Do you feel it will leave the audience with any specific feelings or thoughts?
Mathew Green: From a practical standpoint, I wanted to work on a small-cast show. I wanted to focus on telling the story and really working closely with actors on developing characters. As for the audience, I hope they’ll feel that they’ve been on a journey with these two. Each scene represents an important time in these characters’ lives, but they add up to a lifetime. In a larger sense, I also hope that we do a good job of representing the Station Theatre. There’s so much talent and such a rich history to the Station, and we’re really proud to offer this show as an example of what we do.