BWW Interview: Candice Bernstein and Matt Newman Discuss Dark Comedy GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES
In its South African debut, Candice Bernstein and Matt Newman star in the hilariously haunting GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES at Alexander Bar next month. In this interview they give us a glimpse into their journey with their complex characters of Kayleen and Doug, and how GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES affects those both on and off stage.
BWW: Can you give us a brief description of your characters?
Candice: We meet Kayleen at age 8 and follow her until she's 38. She's a person who has been very affected by life and who holds her cards extremely close to her chest. She is wicked smart and could tear down even the most worthy opponent to shreds with a single sentence.
Matt: Both characters cover a 30 year period over the duration of the play, from 8 years old through to 38 years old. The younger Doug has a buoyant, adventurous and inquisitive spirit which gets replaced by stubbornness, regret and longing.
In what ways do you relate to your characters?
Candice: During the exploration of this text, I've definitely noticed that there is a common theme between Kayleen and I. We've both experienced being let down or abandoned by those closest to us and that has resulted in some trust issues. I think Kayleen tends to carry these issues with her throughout her life and therefore approaches her life with more caution than I do. She (and I) aren't ones who like to openly show our vulnerability.
Had you known each other before the play? How did you create that relationship between you two as if you were childhood friends?
Matt: I knew Candice from her work with Sarafina Magazine but had only met her in person a couple of times prior to her giving me the play to read. In building the relationship between Kayleen and Doug, we've discussed and shared experiences from our childhoods which have created a trust and alliance.
Candice: From the moment of our first encounter, I knew instantly that Matt would make a perfect Doug. I think that creating this relationship has come about quite organically because he is such a lovely human being who people just naturally seem to gravitate towards.
What was your favorite part working with the other?
Candice: Matt is one of the most professional actors I have ever encountered. He has come into rehearsals so prepared and ready to work and that has really inspired me to try and rise to that same level. He has no ego and is down to try almost anything. I've really enjoyed watching the layers that he brings to Doug and often have a hard time not cracking up.
Matt: No ego. No airs and graces. Oh, and talking about everything else that has absolutely nothing to do with the play!
The title of the play sounds almost horror-esque. Is there an element of horror in the play, or is it more so with subject matter?
Matt: The horror exists not only in some of the physical aspects that the characters experience but also in how their actions and - at times - lack of result in the emotional and mental trauma for the other. In an interview, the playwright Rajiv Joseph posed the question "Why do we hurt ourselves to gain someone else's love, or affection?" and I'm sure that most of us have an example of that in our lives.
Assuming the play is quite explorative, is the focus more so on Kayleen and Doug as characters or the relationship between them? And which do you think is almost more integral to the play?
Candice: I think that the two go hand-in-hand but it sways more towards focusing on their relationship which ends up being more integral to this story. The play jumps around in time and you catch the "kids" (as Rajiv refers to them) in different stages of their lives but the constant is that there is always this "relationship" or bond between them. Both develop as time goes on but there is no doubt that they are the Ying to the other's Yang. I think that their encounters with one another drastically change and inform each next stage of their life (whether the other is in it or not).
Has the play made you focus more on encounters or relationships in your own lives, and do you think this is something the audience can take away from it?
Candice: Definitely. I think I've tried to be more aware in how I treat other people while navigating life and trying to protect my own heart. I think this play will cause audiences to reflect on how they navigate the relationships in their own lives and the possible ripple effects thereof.
Matt: Absolutely! It's definitely made me consider relationships in my past that could have functioned differently had I approached them with an alternative attitude or viewpoint. For me, how these characters function within their relationship and their efforts to thrive without the other showcases how difficult it can be to emotionally detach oneself from someone when a true connection exists.
Described as a "celebration of the human spirit" - which I think is a theme we see quite often in theater and films, etc. - what makes GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES different in this celebration?
Candice: I think the play is different because the characters are quite "everyday". We all know a Doug; we could all easily become or be a Kayleen. There are so many themes in the play that we have all navigated. I think we often see plays or films with this theme where the characters are slightly move removed from who we are.
Matt: Unless you have managed to navigate life completely unscathed then you will definitely find something relatable about the characters or the situation they are in. It's a celebration of survival but also it celebrates those who are considered to be different, quirky or alone, and acknowledges both the intimacy and disconnect that can exist in a relationship.
What was it like working with Tara Notcutt?
Candice: Working with Tara has been an absolute delight. GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES marks my return to the stage for the first time in several years. To work with a director like Tara, who is so patient and understanding has made this return to theater feel so welcoming and safe. She is open to any idea and has ushered in a rehearsal room that is full of discovery and laughter.
Matt: Tara approaches her work and speaks a language that I understand. It's my first time working with her but from the beginning it felt familiar and safe and I had no apprehension about being vulnerable. All three of us have a great vibe going on. She also agreed to using a song that I suggested for the play so I love her for her taste in music!
And lastly, why would you encourage someone to watch GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES?
Candice: I think that audiences should take any and all opportunities to support independent theater. I'm definitely biased but I think its a great piece of theater. Tara's work is always such a privilege to watch and Matt is an incredible (and hilarious) Doug. I've lamented many times in rehearsals that I'm quite jealous that I don't get the opportunity to watch the play but I am very grateful to be in it. It's a dark comedy: there are plenty of laughs to be had which might turn into some tears, but isn't that all we could ever want from a night at the theater?!
Photo credit: Jesse Kramer
Gruesome Playground Injuries, the dark comedy by Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph, has its South African premiere at Alexander Bar from 5 to 17 November. Tickets cost R110 or R100 online. Book at: https://alexanderbar.co.za/show/gruesomeplaygroundinjuries/