A new Nanaimo theatre company is making its Nanaimo debut with a play about two childhood acquaintances who keep reconnecting when trauma and injury strike.
From Oct. 17 to 26 Dark Matter Theatre is presenting Gruesome Playground Injuries by Pulitzer Prize-nominated American playwright Rajiv Joseph at Kismet Theatre. The play is the first production by Dark Matter since actor and writer Brianna Wiens founded the company to produce her original play Leftovers for the Vancouver Fringe Festival in 2015.
In 2017 Wiens, who hails from Cobble Hill, returned to the Island and is now establishing herself in Nanaimo. She said she knew Gruesome Playground Injuries was a good fit for Dark Matter after reading the script with her co-star Jonathan Hamilton.
“We actually read it out loud together the first time and it was dark comedy – I love dark comedy – it’s really touching, but kind of weird and not sentimental and a little bit off and those are just all the things I love,” she said.
She and Hamilton play Kayleen and Doug, whose relationship from age eight to 38 is explored in eight scenes told out of chronological order. The time transitions are done using creative sound design and costume choices.
“We start in 1989 and we go to 2019 so we’re making sure that the clothing for the costume is appropriate to the year,” director Tamara McCarthy said.
“We were at Value Village yesterday and it was fun,” added Wiens.
“We’re like, ‘What would your hair be like? Definitely teased-up high pony,’” McCarthy said.
Wiens said the play examines “how people come together and go apart as you get older and who are the people that stick with you.” She said there’s a spiritual layer as well and that the roles are relatable.
“There’s so much in it that’s really familiar without me having experienced all those things,” she said. “It is really just the human experience and it’s messy and it’s gruesome and it’s kind of ugly but yet we still love each other and here we are together. It’s quite beautiful.”
Because the story is not told in a linear fashion, Wiens expects the play to prompt discussion among the audience as viewers try to piece everything together. McCarthy said Joseph is a nuanced playwright and they were discovering connections and hidden meanings as they read through the script.
“He’s such a great writer that he puts in undertones and overtones – especially of religion – that run through this piece, but nothing is super obvious,” McCarthy said. “You have to be like, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s the image from the other scene that relates to this’ and it’s done really subtly. Just a little bit of prying you can kind of figure out what’s going on.”
McCarthy said the script also cleverly portrays how relationships can be non-linear and how it is possible to be close to someone while being physically apart for years at a time.
“What is it that keeps us humanly connected with another individual?” McCarthy said. “I think that’s going to be a big piece of conversation afterwards. [Who] were these two, what did they mean for each other, why did they make the choices they did and what kept drawing them back together?”
WHAT’S ON … Dark Matter Theatre presents Gruesome Playground Injuries at Kismet Theatre, 55 Victoria Rd., on Oct 17 to 19 and 24 to 26 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 20 at 2 p.m. Tickets $18 to $22, sliding scale, available online.