In the past few years, he has worked closely with St. Louis actor/singer Christina Rios and “R” now stands for “Rios,” Stinebaker’s new co-artistic director. She and Stinebaker are collaborating on Gruesome Playground Injuries, a full mounting of the play rather than a reader’s version, featuring Rios and her husband, actor Mark Kelley. Both are busy performers on the St. Louis theatre scene and enthusiastic about the opportunities to do what they love locally. I caught up with the couple recently to talk about their upcoming production. (Or maybe that should be “productions”; see below.)
Andrea Braun (AB): What do you want to tell our readers about Gruesome Playground Injuries?
Christina Rios (CR): First, the play is by Pulitzer Prize finalist, Rajiv Joseph, who may be best known for his piece Bengal Tiger and the Baghdad Zoo, which Robin Williams starred in on Broadway. In one interview, Joseph said, and I’m paraphrasing here: This [play] was born out of a conversation he had with a friend who had multiple injuries growing up and [he dealt with them] throughout his life. Joseph started to think that if you could chart a life through injuries, could you chart a relationship. That’s the inspiration.
AB: Why did you two want to do this particular piece?
Mark Kelley (MK): For me, the challenge. I love the challenge of playing the same person over 30 years of his life. You get to have a lot of fun remembering how it was to be 8 or 13 years old. How do they move? How do they stand? What are their speech patterns like? Then, you have to play the characters in their 30s but have the audience (and yourself) not lose sight of the children they once were. It’s not unlike the essence of The Who’s “Tommy,” which Stray Dog just closed after an enormously successful run playing to a diverse community of theatre-goers. We believe this speaks to that same dynamic.
CR: Absolutely. This isn’t a “straight” play or a “gay” play, it’s a human one. It examines questions like to whom do you turn to heal your wounds? What happens when that person isn’t willing to give you what you need? We see these characters, Kayleen and Doug, from ages 8 to 38 by tracking physical injuries they receive and their attempts to find healing and love through each other. It’s touching and universal. It addresses a singular truth about life: Love Hurts. I also think every audience member will see themselves in one or the other or both of these characters.
AB: So sometimes you’re the windshield and sometimes you’re the bug?
CR: Right. At the core, this is about two people who love each other the only way they know how. Everyone has been the person who gives too much and everyone has been the person terrified of intimacy, and that is exactly what this show is about. And fireworks. We also have fireworks. (Rios is known for her deadpan humor, among her other talents.)
Seriously, I fell in love with this piece the moment I read it—everything. The non-linear story line, the complex friendship, the unique, and yet not foreign characters and flaws. I love that it takes place everywhere and nowhere, like friendship and love do. My best friend growing up was a guy—he still is my best friend, in fact—and so much of this takes me right back to hanging out with Salvo.
AB: So, speaking of relationships, what’s it like working with your spouse?
MK: The first time Christina and I collaborated on a piece (Scarecrow with R-S back in January) I was a little nervous. Being an actor can wreak havoc on one’s ego and insecurities. I’ve known acting couples who should never work together in that way—feelings get hurt, people become too sensitive and a sense of competition grows. It can get ugly. But we’re lucky. I love performing with Christina and I love having her as my director. She is brilliant and is also the reason for some of my best work.
AB: That’s quite a compliment, so Christina, I’m guessing you agree?
CR: Well, everyone asks this, and yeah, I think there are two kinds of couples—those who work well together and those who are horrible in that situation, and I don’t think there’s any in-between. Mark and I had NO clue which kind of couple we were, but then we started doing it, first Scarecrow, then Round and Round the Garden in February, then I directed him in Suicide, Inc. and we were both onstage in Much Ado About Nothing in June. So, we are definitely in the lucky group and work great together. You have to be able to trust your acting partner, especially when the two of you ARE the ensemble, and it is wonderful when that person is also the love of your life. This play requires an enormous amount of intimacy between the two characters, and I’m not sure I’d be comfortable going to that place artistically with anyone else.
AB: Any downsides?
CR: Sure. Time away from our daughter (Sophia, 10).
MK: When you are single, all you have to worry about is your own schedule and where you have to be next. Being part of a family means you have to manage three, and soon to be four (Rios is expecting a baby girl in late February, 2012) different people’s lives, plus your home and your day job. Throw rehearsal and performance schedules and a pregnancy into the mix, and things can get crazy. But our personal life does come first, and if at any time our work was disruptive to our family, we will simply not do it. We love it, but it’s family and love that matter most in the end.
AB: Thanks, and I’ll encourage everyone to come see your show.
Gruesome Playground Injuries runs Oct. 28-Nov. 6, 2011 at the R-S Theatrics/Soundstage Productions space in Crestwood ArtSpace. The piece runs approximately an hour with no intermission. Tickets are only $12 and teachers and military personnel will be admitted for ½ price with a valid ID. For reservations, you may call 314-968-8070 or email email@example.com. Please “friend” us on Facebook. See www.facebook.com/pages/R-S-Theatrics/169644076450744 and follow us on Twitter at twitter.com/RSTheatrics.
BY: ANDREA BRAUN – THEATRE CORRESPONDENT