Gruesome Playground Injuries lives between that grey area between friends and more.
Gruesome Playground Injuries lives between that grey area between friends and more.

As titles goes, Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries is pretty evocative. But don’t let its name fool you, for while the injuries are very real they are merely the backdrop to an unconventional love story that spans some thirty years.

[pullquote]“A lot of it lives between that grey area between friends and more, and is a beautiful and tragic love story that doesn’t get told very often.” – Kenton Klassen[/pullquote]The final project for two of Pacific Theatre’s recent apprentices, UBC theatre program graduates Pippa Johnstone and Kenton Klassen, Gruesome Playground Injuries follows Doug and Kayleen’s relationship from ages eight to 38 through a variety of injuries that bring them together. From time spent in the school nurse’s office as children, through teenage fights and hospital stays of a more serious nature, the two flit in and out of each other’s lives, where they compare their very real physical scars and the damage that goes far deeper.

“A lot of it lives between that grey area between friends and more, and is a beautiful and tragic love story that doesn’t get told very often,” explains Klassen who reunites with Johnstone for their first major work together since their critically acclaimed roles in The Duchess: aka Wallis Simpson for Theatre UBC in 2012.

With the two actors playing their characters at various ages, for Johnstone and Klassen it is not a matter of playing a specific age, but in capturing the essence of what it means to be that age.

“It is definitely trickier when playing the eight year olds,” admits Klassen, “but we’re not trying to play ages so much as exploring the characters needs and wants and a particular age.”

“Eight years old is the trickiest,” agrees Johnstone, “but they are my favourite scenes because all you need to do to play eight is to knock down a lot of the defenses that we build as we grow older. It isn’t about putting a little kid voice, but how you see life through their eyes.”

Not enough to have the actors playing their characters over a 30-year timeline, Joseph does so using a non-linear timeline that sees what happens at age eight inform some of what happens between the two at a later age.

“It is a challenge,” says Johnstone of the non-linear timeline, “but we read it a couple of times in the order in which they grew up and that helped us out a lot. It is interesting to jump around from the intimate moments as eight years, to the aggressiveness as 23 years old.”

Helping the two understand their characters comes from sharing stories from their own lives at the same ages as Doug and Kayleen.

“In rehearsal we are sharing stories at the various ages and it is all so relatable,” says Johnstone. “We can remember the exact moments in our childhood; all those cringe worthy moments.”

Helping Johnstone and Klassen is award-winning director Chelsea Haberlin who is just off her a successful run as director of the multi-Jessie Award nominated Killer Joe. And getting Haberlin on board didn’t take much convincing. But before anyone begins to make comparisons to the graphic Killer Joe, Klassen and Johnstone say that while it is definitely not for the faint of heart, much of the gruesomeness in its title comes from the playwright’s words.

“We’re not hiding it, but the language in the play does a lot of the work,” insists Johnstone. “The title is perfect for this piece: the play is gruesome, but there is something childlike about it as well.”

Gruesome Playground Injuries plays the Pacific Theatre (1440 West 12th Ave) July 3 – 12. Visit http://pacifictheatre.org for tickets and information.

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