Gruesome Playground Injuries

By Rajiv Joseph

Directed by Robert C. Stimmel

November 20–23, 7:30 p.m.
November 23–24, 2:00 p.m.
SecondStage, Studio 88 Theatre

Tickets: $7 Students, $8 Seniors, $10 Adults

  • $5 a ticket curricular discount is available to students who receive credit for attending the performance. Professors who give credit for attendance will receive 2 free tickets to the performance.
  • Group discounts are available to resident advisors, student organizations, and high-school groups.

In this masterful piece by Miami alumn Rajiv Joseph, an accident-prone dare devil and a corrosive masochist navigate friendship, love and the squishy parts that lie in between. 8 year olds Doug and Kayleen meet in a school nurse's office, beginning a lifelong intimacy, revealed through the physical and emotional injuries they sustain over 30 years. Gruesome Playground Injuries tells a different kind of love story through sharp humor and even sharper insights into the human condition.

Director: Robert C. Stimmel
Director Adviser: Rosalyn Erat Benson
Scenic Designer: Gion DeFrancesco
Costume Designer: Michelle McVicker
Costume Designer Adviser: Meggan Peters
Lighting Designer: Les Dershem
Lighting Design Adviser: Russ Blain
Sound Designer: Russ Blain
Technical Director: Josh Wilson
Vocal Coach: Jay Stratton

Cast List:

Doug: Ryan Knapper
Kayleen: Meka Clifford

Production Staff:

Stage Manager: Tess Stanifer
Assistant Stage Manager: Rebecca Braun
Light Board Operator: Emma Crowe
Sound Board Operator: Daniel Lees
Deck Crew: Katie Lloyd
Property Supervisor: Eboni Holbrook
Wardrobe Supervisor: Schrese Holloway
Wardrobe Crew: Megan Haynes, Emily Farnell 


Miami University Alumnus Rajiv Joseph (’96) is a recipient of the 2013 Steinberg Playwright Award. His Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize. The recipient of the Vineyard Theatre’s Paula Vogel Award, Rajiv’s plays include Animals Out of Paper, All This Intimacy, The North Pool (winner of the 2011 Glickman Award for best play to make its world premiere in the Bay Area), The Leopard and the Fox, Alter Ego, and Huck & Holden. Rajiv is a Founding Member of the New York-based theatre company, The Fire Department, and has been a contributing writer on their first two theatrical events, Speakeasy and At War: American Playwrights Respond to the War in Iraq. He is a former Lark Playwriting Fellow, a Dramatists Guild Fellow and the recipient of a Kesselring Fellowship and a Whiting Writers’ Award. He received his B.A. in Creative Writing from Miami University and his M.F.A. in Playwriting from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He served for three years in the Peace Corps in Senegal, West Africa.

Read the article and see the VIDEO: Sneak Peek - PLAYWRIGHT: FROM PAGE TO STAGE on PBS premiering on December 16, 2013

Director’s notes:

As I was sitting watching Irene Ryan nominees’ scenes at last year KCACTF festival, I came across an intriguing piece. The scene told us the story of two thirteen-year-old kids about to share a ”practice kiss” before returning to the school dance. The boy, battling a sprained ankle, was a little rambunctious, and the girl, seemingly strong and independent, had an uneasy stomach. I was enthralled with the short exchange that these two characters had and after the scene was over, I was advised by Gion DeFrancesco to give the play a read. Upon my return to Ohio, I found the play and read it... three times before putting it down. From the first scene I was hooked, these characters and their stories mesmerized me. I connected with each character on so many levels and their increasingly strange encounters were something I just understood. I felt as though I had known Doug and Kayleen my entire life, and I knew I had to direct this play.

This play is not only one about friendship and fascination but also one about pain, both internal and external. Pain is something that we all have felt at one time in our lives. Whether we broke a bone, stubbed a toe, or have had our heart broken, we all know what pain feels like. Doug and Kayleen experience pain everyday, just like we do, only their pain is far more radical than what we tend to experience on a daily basis. As a child, not only was I a daredevil like Doug, I enjoyed showing off my scars. I always found myself doing something ridiculous to impress a pretty girl or just to prove to myself that I was invincible. I acted on my impulses and did whatever my mind wanted to do, letting my body pay the price. But it wasn’t always on purpose; it happened accidentally quire often too. I just always seemed to find danger. As the years went by I began losing loved ones, feeling more pain inside rather than on my skin. Much like Kayleen my pain became more internal rather than external and through this transition I began feeling uneasy about myself.

In life we have many relationships, we meet new people all the time. We continue to make new friends and some of those friends might even become enemies. But it isn’t often we run into a relationship like the one Doug and Kayleen share. In analyzing Doug and Kayleen, I have drawn many parallels to a relationship in my own life. I have shared my deepest desires and my largest insecurities with a friend. We sometimes drifted apart for different reasons. We moved away; we began a romantic relationship with someone else; our work began to consume us; and the list goes on and on. Despite of our fights and dry spells, we have always found a way back to where we started. Our fascination with one another is one of the driving forces behind us maintaining our friendship over the years and it will keep us together for years to come. Much like the relationship in my own life, Doug and Kayleen are fascinated with each other from the first time they meet and that is what keeps pulling them together.

In connecting with these characters, I have learned so much about myself and the world around me. I now ask you to step into the world of Gruesome Playground Injuries and reflect on your own lives as well as the lives of Doug and Kayleen. I hope you enjoy Gruesome Playground Injuries!

Statements by the Designers

Costume Design:

By Michelle McVicker

Gruesome Playground Injuries explores the tumultuous relationship between Kayleen and Doug as it evolves over the span of thirty years. As a memory play, the audience is invited to sample the compelling, poignant, and sometimes funny moments of their lives. As a result of the nonlinear narrative, it is important to establish where we are in time through costume.

A muted color palette of blues and grays is used to establish an environment where emotions are subdued, as our characters often seem desensitized to the physical and emotional pain they endure. The line and style of clothing is also meant to provide a glimpse into their different stages of growth and maturity into adulthood.

Costume choices are intended to help tell characters’ stories and highlight memorable milestones, like attending that awkward first school dance or facing the frightening prospect of losing a friend. From 1983 to today, we follow Doug and Kayleen’s journey as they learn healing has to come from within, not from another person.

Scenic Approach:

by Gion DeFrancesco

Rajiv Joseph places Doug and Kayleen into an imaginary play space in which their relationship exists in fragments, unrestrained by the confines of linear time. Their story is both timeless and universal. Here are two people who connect and love each other, but also cause each other great pain. Their relationship becomes the “playground” of the title.

Most of us have mixed memories of the playground. It’s a blast, and as kids we push the limits of fun. We push the swing SO hard we fall off. We knock the teeter totter so aggressively our foot gets smashed. We spin the merry-go-round so fast that inevitably someone throws up.

In the set, I tried to create a neutral space that could become any of the locations required by the script by having actors move simple objects into different locations. The actors never leave our sight. All they need to tell their story is in this play space. Everything is a little off kilter, as things can often be in our memories of the past.

Lighting Design:

by Les Dershem

     From my first reading of Gruesome Playground Injuries, my idea was that each time Doug and Kayleen are seen on stage, they have come together in a place of refuge from a world that is not kind to them. Each a misfit in their own way, they always have each other for support. So each scene is always just about them. Since the scenes have minimal props, it is important that the lighting gives a sense of place, and also the mood of each scene. Finally, as important as lighting is, it must be subtle so that it enhances the scenes and the actors, and does not have the audience admiring the lighting.

Sound Design:

by Russ Blain

While the action of the play revolves around the physical injuries the characters suffer, I feel that thematically it is a play about internal pain.  It is about the hurt that comes from abandonment, rejection, isolation, and love that is never realized.
After having several discussions with the director, Robert Stimmel, we agreed that all of the music used in this production should support the idea of inner hurt and pain.  We decided that the preshow and post show music would be popular music, from the 1980s through present.  We also agreed that the music that occurs within the action of the play should be instrumental.  Robert asked if it would be possible for me to compose original instrumental music on the guitar for this purpose.  After giving the play several more readings, I agreed.  My goal in creating the original music was to compose phrases that are supportive of the characters’ emotions and the overall mood of each scene.  To accomplish this, I attended considerably more rehearsals than what I typically would have in my work as a designer.