Q&A With Rajiv Joseph by Rose Desena

This Week in Theater

Rogue Machine is back… Rajiv Joseph’s play kicks off the new season


Opening their seventh season on May 24th, the multi-award winning Rogue Machine Theatre will present a unique play from one of today’s most celebrated playwrights. GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES, by Rajiv Joseph (Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo- NEA Award BEST PLAY, and Pulitzer Prize finalist) charts the intersections of two people’s lives over the course of 30 years.


Artistic Director John Perrin Flynn told me that, “this play very cleverly captures our ability to love and how it relates to our childhood. How those early experiences inform our behavior and lack of ability for intimacy in our adult relationships. It’s a funny play, yet serious, subject so audiences can have a good time laughing while taking a very thought-provoking journey. This creates a huge expectation for the Director, Larissa Kokernot, and made me curious to find out how she brought it all together. She created a physically focused performance that seems to act as a metaphor for the emotional wounds that we accumulate in our lives. It presents questions but allows the audiences to form their own answers. It’s already on my “playlist…if I can get a ticket!”



I was looking forward to finding out more about this director and her process and felt lucky to catch up with her recently while in rehearsals at Rogue Machine.




Rose: I read that you began your career as an actor, how/when did you make the transition to directing? Are they equal passions in your life?



Larissa: Yes, I started at 10 years old and worked at all the major theaters in the Twin Cities in my youth, so I think my style as a director really grows out of my interest in characters and how they work from an actor’s perspective. It helped to be able to watch many amazing directors close at hand. The shift to directing in part grew out of my interest in new work while studying at Brown University during Paula Vogel’s tenure there. I was in the New Plays Festival the first couple of years, but became more interested in stepping outside of the story of a single character and looking at the bigger picture. Senior year, interviewed to direct one of the New Plays, and I was hooked. When I returned to Minneapolis, I spent 6 years as Artistic Associate with Eye of the Storm Theatre, where I would direct each season. I really haven’t acted professionally for over 10 years.  But in general I feel like directing is a better fit for me, a better match for my particular set of skills. Perhaps I’ll return to acting when my kids are grown up? There is something really satisfying about living in the skin of another person and there is absolutely nothing like the relationship with a live audience that you get as an actor.



Rose: What drew you to this play, and how did your relationship begin with Rogue Machine.



Larissa: I first heard about this play from Brad Fleisher who’s playing Doug at Rogue Machine, and who originated the role at the Alley Theatre in Dallas. It definitely took hold of me. You follow Doug and Kayleen’s relationship from age 8 to age 38 by jumping forward 15 years and back 10 years. This seemed inherently theatrical, and works so beautifully in the storytelling. It feels like magic in a way, to watch two actors take you on that kind of journey. The audience gets the resonance of powerful moments in the relationship between these two people, not because we’ve been building towards them but because we’ve gotten insights into who they’ve become before we’ve seen why. The other thing I absolutely love about this play is that Rajiv Joseph dictates in his stage directions, that all the transformation between scenes are to be done by the actors in full view of the audience. This means that the transitions become a critical part of the storytelling and thus become a super textural layer in the relationship between both the actors who are playing Doug and Kayleen…and the characters themselves.


I have been following Rogue Machine for five or six years. I can always look to Rogue Machine to choose amazing plays and to bring them to life with an extraordinary group of artists.




Rose: When starting work on a play, do you have a ritual, or checklist, that helps you to prepare as a director?



Larissa: When I’m first preparing to direct a play, I try to read it every day. It’s funny, and a bit strange, but I like to do this at the gym when on the elliptical machine - something about the connection between mind and body allows a deeper reading experience for me. I guess it’s a form of meditation. I have really found that the deeper I know a play, the less I have to work in terms of finding answers to questions of design or leading actors in their process of unearthing character; the play talks to me rather than me dictating to the play what it is.



Rose: Jumping back and forth in time in this piece must be a challenge? How do you handle the transitions?


Larissa: I love that it jumps and that all the transitions happen on stage with the actors, it is critical to how the story is told. I think this is always true, but it’s fun that the playwright dictates this particular challenge. I have really enjoyed working with the designers to figure out exactly what we must have, in order to make the shifts between time and place clear and yet still keep it simple enough to allow the quick transitions. It’s a stimulating part of the process for me, figuring out how the transitions work for the actors: what’s the order of operations each time? Changing of clothes, the movement of a chair. How that can help them in their preparation for the next scene? Where are the moments of connection and breath? So much of this is usually invisible to an audience, but it’s compelling to watch actors transform before our very eyes. It is the magic of theatre.



Rose: Why do you think audiences will appreciate seeing this play?



Larissa: It takes audiences on the kind of ride they could only have in the theatre when sharing the same space with the actors. It’s a play about how our histories shape us, and yet it is continually reminding us of the present moment and the relationships we are in. Uniquely, each night, a story is unfolding. Like the best stories, this story of two friends is at once specific…and yet universal. The journey is extremely intimate and I would hope they will experience it as ultimately profound.



Rose: Thanks so much Larissa, see you at the RM.



I am so excited about this, I wouldn’t wait to long to get tickets, it’s bond to sell out.



Written by Rajiv Joseph

Opens May 24th 5pm Saturdays, 7pm Sundays, and 8pm Mondays (no performance on Monday, June 23rd)

Theatre/Theater - 5041 W. Pico Blvd., LA, CA 90019

www.roguemachinetheatre.com or more information at 855-585-5185


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