Selma Blair playing Kayleen picks at the blood on on fellow actor Brad Fleischer's face -- an action designed to be both comic and in keeping with the title of the terrific new, two-actor play now on the Alley's Neuhaus Stage -- Gruesome Playground Injuries.
It's always a big step for someone whose best-known work is on the movie screen (Hell Boy, Hell Boy 2 and Legally Blonde), to suddenly do live theater -- but for Blair, it's bigger than most.
She's scared to go onstage, but she picks a show when she shares 90 continuous minutes of duty with Fleischer who plays Doug. She's not a big fan of ick, but gore and vomit are crucial parts of the plot of this dark comedy by playwright Rajiv Joseph.
Blair and Fleischer, who most recently starred in Joseph's play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (and who, if you Google, you can see in a guest role of Timmy the soldier on Jericho) , sat down with Hair Balls to answer a few questions between shows. They're relaxed and clearly friends; knew each other before this play, and seem in some (but not all) ways close to the characters they play: the outgoing and athletic Doug who gives too much for love and the more tightly-wound Kayleen who loves and cares, but perhaps not as much, and who cuts herself.
The play bounces back and forth in time as the audience learns of one injury after another that each of the leads incurs from the time they meet at age 8 to when they are both 38.
The injuries are horrendous and have earned the play its mature advisory from the Alley. At the same time, while extreme, they are more than suitable metaphors for the way people have of hurting each other in relationships.
"I think the ick factor of the play is something that keeps the audience visually in check. It keeps testing them. Where did those scars come from?" Blair said. "I'm not an ick fan. I had trouble even looking at him when we were first dealing with the prosthetics in the rehearsal process, just dealing with any blood is very frightening to me."
In contrast, Fleischer said he felt right at home the first time he covered his face in blood. "I come from the horror movie background so I love that stuff. I put the stuff on and I think that's great. I love putting that stuff on."
But Blair is nothing if not a trouper: "I keep my scars on to stay in Kayleen's skin when I'm not at work and then just touch them up before shows."
The length of the one-act show is tough, both agree.
"Having done a bunch of theater before, this is the hardest thing I've ever done," Fleischer said. "It basically is a one-man show where you're lucky enough to have somebody else out there where if you start faltering at all or if your energy starts to drop, you can look at the other person and pick it up."
"Rehearsal itself was really exhausting to me, but the payoff is so important," Blair said. "It's a blessing to get to do a play like this with Brad and with Rajiv's words. I love this play but it does require an endurance I need to find and it's an important play and I need to do it justice eight times a week."
Fleischer was an easy pick for his role, but playwright Joseph said they tried out several actresses for the Kayleen part before they found Blair, who wanted this role for a lot of reasons.
"This play is so close to me. This is a huge huge factor in my life, this play, and it was something I also wanted to prove -- can I do this? I'm terrified of stage, never really sure if I'm a good actress or not and this is a play where you get to figure it out; you get to work through a lot of choices and do it so many times."
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At this point, Fleischer broke in to say: "I can tell you exactly why she got it ... We walked in and Selma is nervous and I was nervous for her and we started and ...all of a sudden Selma says 'I've got to stop,' and blood's coming out of her nose. For no reason at all, blood's coming out of her nose."
"I look over to Rajiv and he sits back and goes 'Oh, my God' and was just smiling and I'm thinking 'Rajiv, you can't start smiling when someone's bleeding out their nose.' And Rajiv says to me, 'Are you kidding? This is Kayleen!' "
Gruesome Playground Injuries runs through Sunday, November 15 on the Neuhaus Stage at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue. For tickets, go to www.alleytheatre.org or call 713-220-5700.
A special First Affinity Series Symposium with playwright Rajiv Joseph and Alley Dramaturg Mark Bly is scheduled for Saturday, October 24, immediately following the 2:30 p.m. performance. They will discuss the genesis of the play, the rehearsal process and the societal issues raised by the play.