Gruesome Playground Injuries

Gruesome pairYou know it’s going to be a different show when you send off an email with the subject line “Gruesome Pictures for Guide.” And yet that’s what I got to do this week. Iowa Stage presents the play Gruesome Playground Injuries beginning Friday April 5 at the Social Club’s Kum & Go Theatre. And yes, this show might be just as odd as it sounds… because it’s a love story. And love hurts….
In Rajiv Joseph’s two-character play, we see Kayleen and Doug at various moments in their lives. They meet as children, and begin a rather unique relationship that runs through their intermittent time together… primarily in medical facilities as one or the other is getting care for the various physical and emotional injuries they suffer.

Through the Years

Maggie Jane Tatone“It’s been fun to play various ages and reminisce about what life was like as an 8-year-old and a 13-year-old,” says Maggie Jane Tatone, who plays Kayleen through the different stages of her life. “The wonder we have as children is fascinating, and it’s been fun to find opportunities of total abandon within the context of Rajiv’s words. Finding different characteristics throughout each age that either disappear with age or become more prominent with age has been very interesting.”
Tatone’s real-life husband Michael Harris plays Doug, and he’s been digging into the detail it takes to play such a range in a single character as well. “Thirty years of age changes in under an hour and a half! For me personally, it comes from the way I inhabit my physical body from age to age, and of course the demeanor of Doug as it goes on. Physically I’ve tried to focus on my feet—as a child, and like many children, Doug walks on the front part of his feet, teetering this way and that. As he gets older he sinks into the back of his feet, and becomes more grounded.”
Gruesome towerTatone and Harris have had lots of time to develop their approaches to these characters. They were originally cast in Gruesome Playground Injuries back in November. So between four months with the script and living together as a married couple (which makes running lines convenient), they’ve had significant time to discover and explore nuances for their characters. That doesn’t mean they have perfect answers….
“I have gone through multiple iterations of my beliefs about their encounters, and the aftermath,” admits Harris. “Is there something magical about this show? Do they summon each other through the injuries? Do they get together again after the show? Do they never talk again after the last scene? This show has been appealing for quite some time, but I am a sucker for small, intimate shows, which is the definition of this show.”
Tatone has gone through her own examinations as well. “My interpretation of the play has changed, as we are continuing to find things in rehearsal. I had heard of this show long ago, and had always dreamed of playing this role. I think there are many things to digest and we have our work cut out for us.”

Through the Connection

As mentioned, Tatone and Harris are married (and welcomed a baby daughter into the world less than a year ago!). So it’s a unique situation, doing a two-character play together, but it does make parenting duties a bit smoother. “I am so lucky to be able to do this show with my wife,” exclaims Harris, “as it’s our first time ever acting together. Which is crazy to think about, considering we’ve been together since 2005, and have been through acting school and auditioning nonstop in Seattle and New York. We are also so lucky to be in such an awesome community that we were able to do this show while having a seven-month old, our daughter Eloise. Without their love and support there was no way this crazy adventure would have happened!”
Michael HarrisThe existing relationship between Tatone and Harris lends itself to being able to build the characters more strongly. “It’s been quite an adventure getting to work with Mike,” says Tatone. “He’s incredibly talented and it’s been a sort of fun bonding experience working with him in this capacity. While Kayleen and Doug certainly are very different than Mike and I, we are able to connect on a level that others may not, and draw on some of our ‘antics’ to help bring these characters to life.”

Through the Injuries

The show is called Gruesome Playground Injuries, after all, which at least implies there are some significant hurts involved. Kayleen and Doug seem to be drawn together at these times of crisis for one or the other, creating the structure of their relationship. But is it really healthy when the whole reason for being together seems to be when one or the other is broken?
It’s a question central to the play, and to the performers. As Tatone notes, “The big question I continuously toil with in this show is this: While these injuries seem to be bringing them together at various intervals in their lives, each time they connect are they growing further apart? There is a lot to play with in this play, and it is fascinating to find the nuances and ritual in this show.”
Gruesome groundShe continues. “In terms of the injuries, I absolutely believe that the injuries only exist due to their intense need to be loved and belong. The only way they know how to communicate is through this unhealthy and destructive way. Both have been brought up very differently and while Kayleen’s injuries are largely emotional and not quite as visible to the human eye, Doug consistently continues to purposely and/or recklessly summon their friendship by getting injured.”
“These are two people who just cannot seem to catch each other at the right time,” laments Harris. “They never seem to have their lives line up for the right moment for them to work as a couple. More than their physical injuries are the injuries that they cause each other in purposeful and non-purposeful ways. By the end of the show they are thinking more about ‘What could have been’ rather than ‘What could be.’ It’s very, very heartbreaking….”
Gruesome Playground Injuries is presented by Iowa Stage from April 5 through April 14. Performances are in the Kum & Go Theatre at the Des Moines Social Club. Tickets are available at the door while they last, or through the Iowa Stage website

Iowa Stage Michael Harris Maggie Jane Tatone