Youngblood Theatre’s “Gruesome Playground Injuries” — more than skinned knees
Actors Rob Maass and Tess Cinpinski and director Benjamin Wilson are about to stage Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, under the Youngblood Theatre banner. They, along with artistic director Michael Cotey and Andrew Voss, created Youngblood in the summer of 2009, just after they all graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee theater program.
“UWM did a good job of showing us how to create our own art,” Wilson said. “So we did.
“I had this play [God Bridge] I’d written sitting around. It went really well.”
So did Youngblood Theatre. Playground Injuries, to run at UWM’s Kenilworth Building Aug. 12-27, and John Olive’s Minnesota Moon (Aug. 15-25, outdoors at Trimborn Farm), are the company’s 10th and 11th productions. Shows such as Red Light Winter, An Apology, Spirits to Enforce and Freakshow have established Youngblood as the area’s most daring and provocative theater group. Their way of producing in dim industrial spaces only adds to their underground allure.
This show, however, will be produced in a neat, clean black box at UWM — still spartan, but downright luxurious compared with Youngblood’s usual digs.
Wilson chose Gruesome Playground Injuries. The company’s resident playwright spends as much time reading as writing, as he plows through play after play. Wilson loves Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a current Broadway hit starring Robin Williams as the Tiger.
“I thought, what could we do by Rajiv that isn’t on Broadway?” Wilson said. “This just jumped out at me. It’s a good fit, a good studio piece.”
Gruesome Playground Injuries requires two characters, 90 minutes, no big staging demands — perfect for a small company in which everyone still has day jobs.
“We play to the age, but we don’t really emphasize the age,” Maass said.
“The writing helps a lot,” Cinpinski said. “The language helps to establish the age of the characters.”
As the topic turned to acting and finding character, Maass joked about how easy it was:
“Oh yeah… age 4, biking accident. Character work done.”
The acting tasks are really more formidable than that. For starters, the episodes do not follow chronological order. So the actors must track not only what their characters know, but when they know it.
“By the time they’re 38, so much has happened between them,” Cinpinski said. “That influences the inflections on certain words.”
Because of the dislocations in time, the audience sometimes knows what will happen before the characters do. And for the same reason, some things become clear to the audience only in retrospect.
“There’s a lot of fun in it that way,” Cinpinski said. “Maybe the characters are 28 and talk over something that happened ‘years ago.’ Then you see it happen in the next scene.”
“It’s a bit of a puzzle play,” Maas said.
The injuries happen offstage, and the encounters occur in the aftermath of the injuries. Doug and Kayleen first meet in the school nurse’s room.
“It’s not an epic tragedy,” Wilson said. “Sometimes, the injuries are more metaphorical. Although Doug does get struck by lightning. If someone is accident-prone, he can measure life by the injuries. ‘Oh yeah, that was the year I broke my arm.'”
Gruesome Playground Injuries open at 8 p.m. Friday, Aug. 12, at UWM’s Kenilworth Studio Theater, 1925 E. Kenilworth Place. Shows are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through Aug. 27, with one pay-what-you-can show at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 22. Tickets are $15, online or at the door.