BWW Interviews: GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES Opens in Intimate KC Space


Kansas City's Crossroads Arts District is well-known for its diverse mix of galleries, cafes, restaurants-theaters, not so much. That's slowly starting to change, as theater entrepreneurs are hanging their shingles on reclaimed warehouse spaces and former storefronts.

Kansas City performer Heidi Van's space, The Fishtank, is an ideal example of this phenomena-it's a small black-box performance studio that's fronted by a street-side windowcase, which is also used for performances.

Van, whose studies include the famed Delle'Arte International School of Physical Theater in Northern California, sees her role at the Fishtank space as that of a curator, as she said in a recent interview: "I do invite artists in based on who they are (but) I do have a level of overseeing the artistic quality and integrity because this is my business."

She admits that running a fully-scripted work such as Rajiv Joseph's two-hander GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES, is not among her usual lineup: "[this play] is not something I typically do here. It's usually new work, performance art, very new, very raw, very untested. This show has a resume and it's been tested and tried, where other things in here, this is where they begin."

Rajiv Joseph is probably best known for the Moises Kaufman-directed BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO, which managed a Broadway run, perhaps due to comedian Robin Williams' role as the title character. This work focuses on the lives of Kayleen and Doug, whose lives intersect in five- and ten-year increments over the course of 30 years; and on the various physical injuries they've sustained in the interims.

Van's co-star, Chris Roady, with whom she's worked previously, actually suggested the play after another piece had fallen through. "[T]his play is very intimate and it calls for an intimate space, and so I just thought when Heidi asked me if I had any other made a lot of sense to do this play in this space."

Director Sidonie Garrett, who also serves as Executive Artistic Director of the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival, describes her interest in the play, which Van asked her to direct "I'll just say that what I like about it is, it is a psychological pas de deux for me. The psychology of why people do what they do is what fascinates me about the work."

She says that when she directs "Every time it's 'Why are you doing this now?' 'What's this about? What's this really about?' I'm cutting to the meat of the people's behavior."

Roady admits to the work's difficulties: "One of the big challenges of this piece for the actors is we're going to have to maintain our energy level, our characters and our through-line without any down-time. There's no time to think about the next thing. If you're taking time to think about the next thing, you've missed the next thing.

Van says of working in such an intimate space in such an intimate work "It's what I want to do as an actress, and that's why I want to be in this piece...It's hard and it's draining and when we get there we're going to nail it."

GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES opens at the Fishtank Theater this Saturday, Sept. 28 and runs through Oct. 13. For tickets and more information visit

Photo: Brian Paulette

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