Playgrounds tend to evoke happy memories of childhood and nature, but the CU Players have teamed with a Brooklyn-based playwright to create a play that induces suspense about these typically happy spaces.
Written by Sarah Sander, “Playgrounds” opens Oct. 17 at the Glicker-Milstein Theatre. It features the story of Justine, who moves to Brooklyn to become a caretaker for her cousin’s child Isaac. It progresses in flashes of moments, shifting wistfully from one conversation to another. Each scene is designed to allow the heroine to ponder family secrets, reveal her own past, and confront her misjudgments.
Sander drew on her time as a nanny in Brooklyn as inspiration for the play. In an email, she described an experience in which she judged a toddler’s mother for not disciplining his aggressive behavior, but later found out that he had a condition that kept him from sleeping. She also used what she learned in a pataphysics class with the Flea Theater co-founder Mac Wellman when crafting the play.
“In the class Mac mentioned that one of the most common mistakes young playwrights make is an attempt to rationalize behavior, bloating scripts with needless exposition,” Sander said in the email. “He observed that even when we know a person intimately, our knowledge of who that person is (wholly and truly) would always be limited. To create intimacy, we hypothesize and project, making assumptions as we go.”
Actors called “Playgrounds” an especially challenging play, as they have to capture both the gravity of reckless judgment, and the gradual recognition and understanding of that reckless judgment.
“From an acting standpoint, in an emotionally fraught play, there are a lot of secrets,” India Choquette, BC ’14, who plays Justine, said. “So there is a strong difference between who we present ourselves to be and who we actually are. And we have to incorporate those identities together so that the audience can believe that there’s something hidden behind the façade.”
“Both of our characters try to recover from the past in different ways,” Marjorie Shrimpton, BC ’14, who plays Cynthia, said. “But the past is never explicitly explained in the play, and it’s our job to deliver such revelation.”
The actresses and the director are confident in their production, and are anticipating the different interpretations and questions they hope the show will inspire in the audience.
“Plays are not devices that have a prepackaged message that the audience can unwrap it in the end,” Lilla Goettler—BC ’14, director of the show, and president of CU Players—said. “Hopefully, everyone will come out of this show with their different interpretations of what has happened and who these people are.”
In addition to the interpretive freedom “Playgrounds” gives the audience, the cast and creative team are excited about the creative freedom given to the CU Players.
“Sander has been here intermittently and makes revisions to the draft based on what she hears and what Lilla and I suggest,” said Emily Sorensen, CC ’14, the dramaturge of the production, and a Spectator copy associate. “We had three or four revisions over the past six weeks, and it’s cool to get to see your effect on the production.”
Sander is similarly enthusiastic about the interpretation that Goettler, Sorensen, and the cast have developed.
“Because of my schedule this fall, my time with the cast and crew has been short,” Sander said. “In the past, I’ve been much more intimately involved in rehearsals. So for me, it is just exciting to see what Lilla and her team create based almost entirely on the script.”
“Playgrounds” runs at the Glicker-Milstein Theatre, LL2 of the Diana Center, Oct. 17-19. Tickets are $5 with a CUID and $10 without one. Tickets are available for purchase online and in person through the TIC.
Correction: In a previous version of this article, India Choquette's surname name was misspelled. Spectator regrets the error.