Heading into the New Year, Ignition Theatre is delving into powerfully dramatic territory with Rajiv Joseph’s acclaimed play Gruesome Playground Injuries, opening Jan. 17th.
Described as a provocative and controversial love story, the show runs through to Jan. 26th in the Nickle Studio with curtain at 7:30 p.m. and it carries a discretionary warning for coarse language, graphic imagery, sexuality and mature themes that, ‘may trigger those suffering from mental illness’.
Tickets are available through www.ignitiontheatre.ca or at the box office 30 minutes prior to showtime.
Directed by Ignition’s artistic director Matt Grue, the play features Erin Odell, Christopher Schulz and Starlise Waschuk.
Over the course of 30 years, the lives of Kayleen and Doug intersect at the most bizarre intervals, leading the two childhood friends to compare scars and the psychological calamities that keep drawing them together, according to the synopsis.
“Gruesome Playground Injuries marks Ignition’s return to the provocative and edgy brand of theatre from which our reputation in the community was first formed,” explained Grue, adding that the ‘edgy’ moniker too often suggests to the audience that the play they are about to see is either gratuitous or offensive.
“I want to assure our audience that the same values, respect and careful artistic consideration that goes into productions like The Year of Magical Thinking or The Glass Menagerie or Tuesdays with Morrie are the same values applied to the productions that carry those seemingly terrifying discretionary warnings,” he said.
“It’s a love story that desperately struggles to navigate and accept what love truly means,” he said, adding it’s a play full of questions, catharsis and a ‘deeply dark sense of humour’.
Ignition Theatre has presented some of the most memorable theatre in Central Alberta’s history including Tuesdays With Morrie, Deathtrap, Hedwig and the Angry Inch, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Live Radio Radio Drama, My Name is Rachel Corrie and Bug among many others.
“With respect to the show, I think while mental illness has taken its necessary place on the front burner of social discourse, that it’s regarded as a thing and those lucky enough to not suffer don’t understand that this ‘thing’ is often an all encompassing part of our being.
“I think ‘Gruesome’ highlights this in a meaningful and accessible way. I also think it can provoke a conversation about mental illness between those who suffer and those who do not in a way that they both have a confident access point into such important dialogue,” he said, adding that the theme of love is woven into the story as well.
“Somehow, every one of our plays is ultimately about love. I think that fact is simply a commentary on what an important role love plays in our lives, regardless of the circumstances.”
Rounding out the creative team behind Gruesome Playground Injuries are Lauren Acheson (design); Dustin Clark (sound design and original music), Stephanie Grue (stage manager); Marnie Rath (assistant stage manager); Meg Thatcher (technical director) and Spencer Falkenberg (special effects make up).
”There are maybe 15 to 20 of us that rotate through every production. Again, not by design, but it has allowed us to develop not only deep, meaningful professional relationships with each other, but these are my closest friends.
“Erin is probably the most underrated actor I’ve ever worked with. She offers so much depth that comes so naturally that she gives the impression she’s not working for it.
“Chris is as solid of a pro as one could ask for. To use a sports metaphor, he’s a glue guy. He’s the kind of actor you use to anchor a play. Given his stature and his voice, you wouldn’t expect him to be such a wonderful character actor; he’s such a chameleon. What a thrilling combination.
“Starlise, who returns to us from Vancouver, plays a role that doesn’t actually exist in the play that I’ve added as a means and opportunity to lean into the theatrical nature of our work,” he said.
As to the warning the play carries, Grue said it shouldn’t be seen as an obstacle or a reason to necessarily stay away.
“Obviously, I wouldn’t bring a ten-year-old to this play. If coarse language or sexuality offends you and that content would remove you from the play, then obviously you’ll dislike the experience and, personally, I wouldn’t want you there taking the opportunity away from somebody else whose sensibilities might better align with ‘Gruesome’.”
Ultimately, the play taps into very personal territory for Grue, who explained that he has had his own battles with mental illness. ”I’ve lost people to mental illness,” he said. “And we’re finally talking about mental illness. We’re finally taking strides to address it. I want those suffering to know that they are seen.
“They are understood and that perhaps we can use this play to help those struggling to understand what they’re loved ones are going through.”