Yeah, I have another cold. I don’t get it: this is California, people aren’t supposed to get colds, they’re only supposed to get suntans. Oh well.
Anyway, rather than sitting in a crowded theatre, infecting multitudes of people on all sides of me, I decided only to cough and sneeze on a couple of people this week, and to do it virtually at that.
Sara Rae Foster and Jeff Ward comprise the cast of Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries at the Hudson Backstage. The play is described as “a hilarious and heartbreaking love story about the intimacy between two people who allow their defenses to drop and their wounds to show,” and follows the characters over a period of 30 years.
Ms Foster’s Los Angeles credits include Babe in Beth Henley’s Pulitzer-winning Crimes of the Heart (Open Fist Theatre with Aquila Morong Studio) and Sue in Tony-nominated Michael John LaChuisa’s world premiere dark comedy Sukie and Sue: Their Story (Blank Theatre). She’s appeared on Showtime’s Masters of Sex, TNT’s Mob City, and in national ads for Honda, Volkswagen, Verizon, and Lincoln Financial.
Mr. Ward starred as Charles Manson in the Lifetime original movie, Manson’s Lost Girls, and recently completed production on the indie film The Boy Upstairs. Onstage in LA, he starred as Walter Prime in the world premiere of Marjorie Prime at the Mark Taper Forum; his New York theatre credits include The Chimes (The Public/SPF), and THAT FACE (Manhattan Theatre Club), and he made his Broadway debut understudying Ben Foster in Orphans starring Alec Baldwin.
Dan Berkowitz: Sara, I understand it was your idea to do Gruesome Playground Injuries – how did you know about the play and why did you want to do it? Jeff, how did you get involved – and did the title intrigue you, or make you worried…?
Sara Rae Foster: Two words: STAYING POWER. It fell into my hands soon after it was published, before anyone had really heard of it (it is now a wildly popular play, and deservedly so.) It was assigned to me in an acting class, and reading it affected me on a deep gut level unlike anything else I’d ever encountered before. Now years later, after seasons of monumental personal change, it is still affecting me in that same way. I know audiences will feel the same. It has stood the test of time – which is a huge testament to playwright Rajiv Joseph.
Jeff Ward: I saw the original production in New York and have always been fascinated by the play. I love the title. It’s one of the better titles I know of, so hopefully it will intrigue other people enough to come see it!
DB: You’ve both done stage acting, as well as film work. Tell us how they differ.
SRF: You get a wide variety of food and snacks on a film set.
JW: Each of them give different ways to tell a character’s story, but it’s amazing how different they are. With film you have to show up on set with your work done; there is very little, if any, time to rehearse. Which makes it fun because there’s so much spontaneity and live wire-ness that you can inject into a performance. It’s also completely out of order, obviously, so you have to track the journey of the character the whole time and sort of keep this timeline in your head, which can be disorienting. With theater, you end up running the play a hundred times before anyone sees it, which is helpful because you know the material so well it’s in your bones. You also get to see the character arc through beginning to end, which can make telling their story easier. But at the same time it’s tough since you’re doing it over and over again and have to keep it fresh. There is also a vocal and physical stamina that is necessary for theater, and it’s tough to acquire unless you’ve had a lot of training.
DB: Sara, you appeared in Crimes of the Heart, and this play sounds like a different kind of animal. What kind of preparation do you do when you act in a play, and how did your prep work for this differ from Crimes?
SRF: Crimes was a show about a big family, so there was a lot of shared history to create. It was told over the span of a few days, so the amount of ground we had to cover was limited compared to Gruesome (which spans 30 years of the characters’ lives.) The preparation for Crimes was very condensed, with research and rehearsal all happening simultaneously. Gruesome is something I’ve been picking at for almost seven years. It’s lived with me in such a way that it’s made the process feel less intellectual and more visceral, like a creative second nature. That’s been a real pleasure for me! You’re rarely given that amount of time to explore a character.
DB: Jeff, you starred as Charles Manson, one of the great villains of our time. Were you at all reluctant to take such a part? What kind of research did you do? And how do you get in the “mindset” of such a guy?
JW: I loved that opportunity. I agree that he is one of the great villains of our time, so I based my interpretation heavily on Iago from Othello, along with some other favorite villains (The Joker in The Dark Knight, Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler, Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, Phillip Seymour Hoffman in The Master, to name a few).
As soon as I got the part, I started researching every book, interview, documentary and podcast I could get my hands on. There is so much material on him, which was freeing and overwhelming at the same time, but I only had two weeks to prep it so I had to start making decisions on how to play him right away. A lot of it was laid out in front of me because there is so much written on him, but I quickly took to the idea that there was only one way he could’ve gotten all those kids (they were all in their early 20s, he was 35) to follow him and do whatever he asked – he must’ve been one of the most charming and charismatic people any of them had ever met. So I got to play with the idea of a gentle and sweet guy, always playing his guitar and cracking jokes, slowly becoming a monster.
DB: What’s the rehearsal process been like for Gruesome Playground Injuries? How does the experience compare with other things you’ve done?
SRF: GRUESOME! The show demands a level of commitment and transparency from us that’s daunting at times (and frankly, exhausting!). I really believe that for the show to have maximum impact, the actors cannot hide behind tricks or technique. We have to be generous with each other and generous with our audience. That’s when it becomes an undeniable pleasure and something the audiences are sure to enjoy. As my first two-hander, it’s really been a daily trust fall with my fellow actor. Luckily for me… I’m falling towards the indomitable Jeff Ward, whose talent and spirit cannot be matched!
JW: It’s been one of, if not the, most challenging thing I’ve ever done. Since we play these characters from ages eight to thirty-eight, it touches on so many things people go through in adolescence and beyond, which makes it really poignant. Your first kiss, losing your virginity, addiction, what it means to grow up – it’s easy to convey all those things superficially, but to properly dig in and honestly explore those parts of your life is extremely difficult. But hopefully, if we do our job well, it’ll be satisfying for the audience because it really is a potentially epic journey of love and misfortune.
Now let’s get some snacks for these actors!
Gruesome Playground Injuries
Written by Rajiv Joseph
Directed by John Hindman
May 20 – June 26
The Hudson Theatres
6539 Santa Monica Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90038
Tickets: 323-960-7773 or www.plays411.com/playground