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Ignition Theatre delves into Gruesome Playground Injuries

Compelling production runs through to Jan. 26th in the Nickle Studio

There are plays you come away from feeling entertained and/or inspired by.

Others leave little if any impact. Some stay with you for days on end – surfacing in your thoughts at all kinds of unexpected moments.

That’s the case with Ignition Theatre’s latest production Gruesome Playground Injuries, which runs through to Jan. 26th in the Nickle Studio.

Curtain is at 7:30 p.m. and the show does carry a discretionary warning for coarse language, graphic imagery, sexuality and mature themes that, ‘may trigger those suffering from mental illness’.

Not an ‘easy’ show to watch, Gruesome Playground Injuries, penned by Rajiv Joseph, is nonetheless an important one to experience with its pointed, challenging explorations of mental health, relationships, love and how deeply we can impact each other’s lives for good or in destructive ways.

Doug (Chris Schulz) and Kayleen (Erin Odell) meet as kids in the hospital undergoing treatment.

As the years roll on, their injuries, illnesses and conditions bring them together time and again, and we see each character respond in different ways to their circumstances and to each other.

There is a love there between the two, but it seems that walls of pain, hurt and anger work against these two connecting in a healthy, reciprocal way. And yet, in a sense, they do ‘come together’.

Ultimately Gruesome Playground Injuries is a raw, sensitive and moving story that I think, on many levels, plenty of people will relate to whether that be via their own experience or that of friends or loved ones.

All that said, it’s hard to find the words to describe how terrific this powerhouse cast really is.

Schulz and Odell have always been two of my favourites, and they literally pour every ounce of everything they have to offer into their roles.

From boiling-over hatred to the quietest moments of vulnerability, both do masterful, convincing jobs of nailing the nuances of every single age and stage Doug and Kayleen are at.

Some scenes are absolutely jarring and deeply troubling. But as an audience member, I found myself caught up in the story. It’s real, it’s timely, it’s gritty and it works so very, very well.

Schulz and Odell deserve much praise for their courage to take on parts that couldn’t have been easy to immerse themselves in. But largely to their credit, I left inspired, challenged and virtually speechless by what I witnessed on that stage.

Director Matt Grue continues to offer up superbly-crafted theatrical experiences that leave audiences with much to ponder. It’s clear he has a way with actors, too, not just in his spot-on casting but in how he meticulously guides the rehearsal and development process with such powerful results.

Starlise Waschuk is also a key part of this production, but in an extraordinarily unique way via her mesmerizing interpretive choreography that effectively – and eerily – bridges the scenes. It’s almost dream-like in some ways, but riveting and even chilling in others.

Dustin Clark has again contributed his absolutely unique and original sound design and music to an Ignition production. Rather than merely enhancing the show, his work is like another ‘character’ in the play – infusing scenes with an array of abrupt, shifting moods.

Again, it’s the cast that ultimately fuels the many strengths of Gruesome Playground Injuries. Odell can be fierce, funny or gut-wrenchingly vulnerable. I’ve seen few who can nail raw anguish like she can. She’s also always been so good with the subtle aspects of her craft. I have always been amazed at how her expressions can in and of themselves tell a complex story.

The same can be said for Schulz, whose range just really knows no bounds.

Rounding out the stellar creative team are Lauren Acheson (design), Stephanie Grue (stage manager), Marnie Rath (assistant stage manager), Meg Thatcher (technical director) and Spencer Falkenberg (special effects make-up).

I found Gruesome Playground Injuries to be more than a show – it shines a light on extremely vital issues. For one, mental health and how fragile it can be. Also, the sadness of watching isolated people keep love at bay because of their own pain. But also the challenge of caring continually for others. And being wise with our words and actions within our relationships; words which can be healing but can also wield enduring and irreparable harm.

Tickets are available through www.ignitiontheatre.ca or at the box office 30 minutes prior to showtime.

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