Jewish community membersGina Leon and Michael Germant co-star in Island Productions’ presentation of Gruesome Playground Injuries at the Vancouver Fringe Festival Sept. 8-17. (photo by Jayme Cowley)
Playwright Rajiv Joseph describes Gruesome Playground Injuries as being “about missed love, it’s about pain and regret. These are things that almost everyone in humanity has some experience with.”
Jewish community member Michael Germant, who co-stars in Island Productions’ presentation of Gruesome at the Vancouver Fringe Festival with fellow community member Gina Leon, also highlights the universal elements of Joseph’s play.
“Everyone has either wanted to be in, or has been in, or has come out of a relationship, therefore, there is something for everyone to relate to,” Germant told the Independent. “The show is rich in humour, empathy and tenderness. Internal and external pain are a measure of everything vulnerable when it comes to intimacy, timing and love.”
Gruesome Playground Injuries is part of the Fringe’s Dramatic Works Series celebrating playwrights of Asian descent. Germant said that he and Leon – who together produced and performed the play A Weekend Near Madison in the 2015 Fringe’s Dramatic Works Series – “had read Gruesome Playground Injuries a few years ago and I think it’s always been in the back of our minds to do it one day, and so this turned out to be the perfect opportunity.”
The press material calls the play “a harrowing and humorous story about love.” The description reads, “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 physical calamities that keep drawing them together.”
It seems like pretty heavy fare for the Fringe, or is it?
“The foundation of the Fringe usually is to do experimental and challenging work,” said Germant. “Gruesome Playground Injuries’ non-linear structure, raw subject matter, and bloody and bruised characters – both figuratively and literally – we feel are representative of the aims of the festival. We chose the play because of the way we felt about this unique perspective of a love relationship. The play is realized through humour and drama.”
The humour, which is dark, “is expressed through the naivety of the characters and the comedy of misconnection,” he said.
In his remarks on Island Productions’ website, director Mel Tuck notes that the play “demanded much from the actors.”
“The demands of the play are numerous, reconnecting with a prism of memories,” Leon told the Independent. “What’s it like to be a child, a teenager, a young adult; how does one authentically play it? This part is close to the bone for me, and giving myself permission to be vulnerable – really vulnerable, and go to all the places I need to, to bring Kayleen to life – that’s scary and exciting.”
For Germant, “I’ve never experienced the physical injuries of Doug, but I do have emotional and psychological parallels. My challenge has been to open myself up to express these psychological and emotional injuries.”
Working on his character, said Germant, “has caused me to confront my own behaviour and address some of my foibles. I’ve learned to laugh at myself.”
Both Leon, who was born in Johannesburg, and Germant, who was born in Moscow, know what it is like to be an immigrant, to straddle more than one culture. They can relate to Gruesome’s theme of alienation.
“Growing up in Montreal as a Russian-Jewish immigrant, I realized very early how different and apart I was,” said Germant. “As such, I viscerally know alienation and separateness. Doug is experiencing being separate and alienated throughout the play – we play these characters from ages 8 to 38 – and he suffers from self-esteem issues because of it. He feels obligated to perform for approval, which, in his case, causes gruesome injuries.”
Gruesome Playground Injuries runs at the Cultch’s Vancity Culture Lab Theatre Sept. 8-17. For tickets ($14) and the whole Fringe lineup, visit vancouverfringe.com.