Erin Odell and Christopher Schulz star in Ignition Theatre’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, opening Jan. 17 at Red Deer’s Nickle Studio. (Contributed photo).

Ignition Theatre presenting provocative play about intimacy and mental illness

‘Gruesome Playground Injuries’ opens Jan. 17 at Nickle Studio

Ignition Theatre opens the new year with a gritty tale of “scar-crossed” lovers that sheds some light on mental illness.

Gruesome Playground Injuries, by Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph, promises to be more painful than your typical love story. The play, which runs Jan. 17 to 26 at the Nickle Studio at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre, is about two people who meet in the nurse’s office in elementary school.

Over the next three decades, their paths intersect as Doug or Kayleen suffer from wounds, heartbreak and their own self-destructive habits.

The dark comedy comes with a list of discretionary warnings: Coarse language, graphic imagery, sexuality and “mature themes that may trigger those suffering from mental illness.”

The latter pertains to people who are cutters, as Kayleen inflicts self-harm as a way of dealing with her emotional pain, said director Matt Grue.

While some scenes could be upsetting, particularly to those struggling with this illness, Grue feels the play also offers them hope.

There’s an underlying message that it’s possible to cope with mental illness “so it doesn’t obliterate you… There might not be a cure for it, but there are ways to manage it.”

The story also “opens a window for people who have never had to deal with mental issues,” raising awareness as well as understanding and compassion, Grue adds.

“I think it allows us to look at it from the inside out…

“It’s a really great play,” he stressed, confirming it marks Ignition Theatre’s return to the more provocative brand of theatre the professional Red Deer company has become known for.

Grue feels the script uses shock value to get across thoughtful messages about two things of growing significance to our society: mental health and human connections.

“It’s an incredibly beautiful examination,” he says, “of pain, both physical and psychological, and our need to inflict pain upon others and ourselves as a means of survival.”

Beyond that, playwright Joseph (Broadway’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo) shows the intimacy that can develop when two people “allow their defences to drop and their wounds to show,” he adds.

Gruesome Playground Injuries stars Ignition veterans Erin Odell (The Shape of Things and Dog Sees God) and Christopher Schulz (The Strapping Young Lads, Proof) and features Starlise Waschuk (Dog Sees God).

Grue said everyone involved appreciates being able to rise to the demands of the script and theme.

“It’s not some straightforward interpretation… This asks more from us, and it feels good to be sinking our teeth into more challenging material.”

He hopes audience members will trust Ignition Theatre to take them on another memorable — and thoughtful — ride.

Tickets available from or the door (limited seating).

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