By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer on Mar 9, 2012, at 2:27 AM Updated on 3/09/12 at 5:27 AM
Rajiv Joseph’s play “Gruesome Playground Injuries” has a cast of two.
Odeum Theatre Company’s production of this play – the company’s first show since April 2011 – has three directors.
Sara Phoenix, one of the directors, said the original reason for this rather unusual division of labor was a practical one – to accommodate the personal schedules of the personnel involved.
“But we found that having more than one director worked really well artistically with this piece,” she said.
Each director – Phoenix, along with founding members Erin Scarberry and Whitson Hanna – would be responsible for a separate section.
“Then we all came together to help each other and to give more thoughts about the whole show,” Phoenix said. “The process was, of course, infused with many passionate discussions.
“There were three really strong directorial opinions and two knowledgeable actors in the middle,” she said. “I know we each had our minds changed at least a few times, but that’s what made it so special.”
The two actors – David A. Lawrence, another of Odeum’s founding members, and Dara Allen – portray two people who meet in the nurse’s office of their elementary school.
Kayleen (Allen) is there because of a stomach ache. Doug (Lawrence) is there for a slightly more dramatic problem: He pedaled his bike off the roof of the school in imitation of Evel Knievel. And, in the words of the nun who found him, he broke his face open.
The play chronicles the relationship between Kayleen and Doug over the next 30 years, with scenes that move back and forth in time, and which revolve around the consequences of various self-destructive behaviors.
“I think the back-and-forth structure helps to identify different parts of the story that might have otherwise been glossed over,” Lawrence said.
“It requires the audience to pull details from, or filter details into, scenes – guiding their analysis of the action they’re seeing.”
“We all agree this is one of the most difficult scripts we’ve worked on in a way,” Phoenix said. The play’s structure “has been a focal point of many discussions, and, honestly, you’ll still get varying answers from each of us.
“But our main concern is that the age of the characters or the time and place of their encounters ultimately don’t matter,” she said. “It’s the relationship that lives within those elements that is really the focus. Finding a balance of sincerity within the relationship with the somewhat whimsical, theatrical nature of the script makes it a uniquely challenging piece.”
One unique element of Joseph’s play is that the physical transformations – the creation of those “gruesome playground injuries” that seem to bring these two characters together – are done on stage, in view of the audience.
These moments, said co-director Hanna, “act as the tie that binds (the characters) together. The physical injuries that bring them together again and again are overt manifestations of the emotional and psychological traumas they suffer as they move through life.”
“Gruesome Playground Injuries” is also something of a new start for Odeum. Formed in 2009, the company made a name for itself with acclaimed productions of such plays as David Mamet’s “Speed-the-Plow,” Tracy Letts’ “Bug” and Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to be Pretty.”
“We needed to restructure in many ways,” Lawrence said. The company was associated last year with Tulsa’s Choregus Productions but now has established itself as an independent 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.
“Our aim now is to continue challenging audiences and actors but also to make a better, broader effort to include the community at large,” Lawrence said.
Some of the company’s upcoming projects include a summer program for young actors and plans to stage Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”
‘GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES’
When: 8 p.m. March 9-10 and 15-17
Where: Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. Fourth St.
Tickets: $10, available at the door.