Hepburn Zoo Gets ‘Gruesome’

By Mandy Kimm

This weekend at the Hepburn Zoo, a group of five students will present “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” a two-character play written by Rajiv Joseph. The story follows the relationship of Kayleen and Doug, played by Alia Khalil ’14.5 and Ben Kramer ’13.5, from the ages of eight to thirty-eight as they experience various injuries throughout their lives.

The play is performed in a series of chronological vignettes, each presenting a new injury one of the characters has sustained and providing snapshots of the relationship.

“The physical injuries are metaphors for emotional injuries,” Khalil said. “I hope that the show will provoke thoughts on timing and why people come into our lives at a certain time.”

Growing up and the resulting maturation of relationships also permeates the work. The audience observes as the characters share brief encounters and bond over their painful injuries at irregular intervals of up to ten years without seeing each other. Their comparison of physical scars becomes an exploration of emotional self-portraits of their lives.

“Gruesome Playground Injuries,” penned by contemporary American playwright Rajiv Joseph in 2009, presents an unusual type of theater, composed of only two characters who remain on stage the entire duration of the 70 minute play. The staging allows the audience to witness the actors shifting their age, costume and props during scene transitions. Participants face a unique challenge to portray believable shifts in their characters with little transition time and without the opportunity to momentarily leave the stage to occupy a slightly different character. The actors must explore the idea of how people change over time as they live through new experiences, while also retaining a core sense of self—a concept not unfamiliar to Middlebury students.

“Gruesome Playground Injuries” is possible due to the dedication of the five involved students, including actors Kramer and Khalil, director and set designer Teddy Anderson ’13.5 and lighting designers Nick Hemerling ’14.5 and Mari Vial-Golden ’14. After Khalil chose the show this past October, the group began rehearsing throughout the fall before J-term, which allowed them to devote more time to preparing the show for production.

“I chose the show because of the intriguing roles of Kayleen and Doug, and the challenge of playing roles whose greatness stems from their difficulty for the actor,” Khalil said. “I constantly question the role and how to portray it successfully onstage.”

The students presenting “Gruesome Playground Injuries” have worked hard on their own time outside of their sizeable Middlebury workloads, and are proud to present their efforts to the college audience. Khalil is excited to connect with an audience of peers and share with her friends what the group has been working on.

“It’s not performing a play to an audience of strangers in the Hepburn Zoo,” Khalil said.

The students will present “Gruesome Playground Injuries” this Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm each night. Tickets are $4. Come support your fellow students and enjoy the result of their hard work and dedication!