New Play"Gruesome Playground Injuries" by Rajiv Joseph (Senegal 1996-98)

220px-image-rajiv_joseph_by_jessica_johnstonThe regional premiere of “Gruesome Playground Injuries” by Cleveland Heights native Rajiv Joseph will be April 27 at Ensemble Theatre at 8 p.m. This play opened last January on Second Stage in New York City.

In “Gruesome Playground Injuries,” childhood friends Kayleen and Doug find their lives intersecting as they compare the scars and physical calamities that keep drawing them together.

Joseph today is a writer on Showtime’s current season of the drama “Nurse Jackie,” has won numerous awards, including being a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2010. Still, Joseph, who moved to Cleveland Heights when he was four says he is “amazingly excited” to see his work produced where he grew up.

“I had works produced all over the world before I was able to do something in Cleveland,” said Joseph.  

Joseph says the play is “about a relationship, a friendship. It’s a love story about people who have a deep need for each other, but are unable to connect.

Joseph got the idea for “Gruesome Playground Injuries” from his friend Keith Benjamin, South Euclid’s director of community services, when Benjamin visited Joseph in New York City.

“We were out for a drink and he was telling me about the slew of injuries he’s had that were bizarre and terrifying,” Joseph said. “I would have already considered him an accident-prone individual. At every stage in his life, he’s had a life-threatening disaster.”

“I told him,” Joseph said, “If you ever wrote a memoir, every chapter could be an injury.”

When Joseph realized he could write a story in which injuries mark the passage of time, “Gruesome Playground Injuries” was begun, its initial concepts scribbled on a bar napkin.

He earned his undergraduate degree in English from Miami University, and applied for the Peace Corps and was assigned to Koular in Senegal. He spent three years in the Peace Corps, two in Koular and a third year in Kaolack. He says today his time in the Peace Corps, “more than anything else in my life, made me into a writer.”

In the Peace Corps he developed the discipline of daily writing and inspired his “fascination with the power of language.  It felt a little like being a child again, because your language skills are on the level of a 4-year-old, so the adults kind of ignore you, but the children cluster around you telling you what everything is called.”

And he adds, as most RPCVs understand, “The way I dealt with my own emotions in that secluded village, since we normally do that with people in conversation, was with my journal, and it made me a better writer.” 

Joseph, who thought he might write fiction writer, moved to New York City after his tour, worked for a dot-com company, and was writing on his own. He discovered a New York University program for screenwriting which simply required he submit a script.

“So I wrote a screenplay. NYU made me take classes for play writing. I hadn’t had any ambition to be a playwright until I went to grad school.”

There will be a special benefit performance of “Gruesome Playground Injuries” at Ensemble Theatre on Saturday, May 12 with the playwright in attendance. Tickets for this special event will be $50 each or $90 per couple with a pre-show reception at 7 p.m. and show at 8 p.m., followed by a post-show celebration.

“Gruesome Playground Injuries” runs through May 20, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

For more information or for reservations, call (216) 321-2930 or visit

A collection of Javjiv plays are also available on


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