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BWW Review: DEMONS OF THE MIND at Blue Raven Theatre

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BWW Review: DEMONS OF THE MIND at Blue Raven Theatre As exercises in empathy, there are few activities that beat theatre. The very act of creating a character necessitates developing the deepest of understandings of another individual - their good and bad, light and dark, all together and without judgment. Talia Pura's latest play, Demons of the Mind, requires her to do exactly that, with a character based on a real life individual who, by many accounts, would be past empathy.

Demons of the Mind is loosely based on the case of Andrea Yates (the Texas mother who drowned her five children in a bathtub in 2001). Pura doesn't actually play Ms. Yates, but a character who is very similar in action and intention (both the character and the real life counterpart were motivated by religious fanaticism and the incredibly misguided idea that they could "save" their children from damnation by sending them to heaven before they could be sinful enough to go to hell). We meet Ms. Pura's version of the character, named Marie Powers, shortly after the horrific event has happened. At the same time, we also meet lawyer James Campbell (played by Brent Black), who has been recruited to attempt to assist Marie... or at least reduce her sentence, as she has already plainly admitted to her crime.

This is all pretty heavy stuff, and in the hands of lesser performers, it might be too much to watch. Thankfully, both Ms. Pura and Mr. Black turn out truly brilliant performances in their respective roles. As Marie, Ms. Pura shifts deftly between extreme psychosis (that evil laugh...) and, almost more disturbingly, totally sane and competent behavior. When in a psychotic state, she spouts religious songs and Bible verses as if her life depends on them (and the character truly believes that she does); one of the strongest and most creative elements of the play, also, is that Ms. Pura uses her substantial skill in aerial performance, which is honestly worth the price of admission alone, to represent the inner turmoil her character experiences. It is immensely moving and engaging, and is an incredibly effective choice, particularly as it is made clear that lawyer James Campbell is unable to see any of this, and simply thinks Marie is lost in her own mind at these points.

As Campbell, Mr. Black begins the story in a very Machiavellian fashion (he initially informs the audience in a soliloquy that, essentially, his motivation in taking hard to win cases has less to do with actually helping his clients, and more to do with his own ego and enjoyment of a challenge). As the play goes on, he develops actual empathy for Marie and her mental illness; he never tries to justify her actions, of course, but he emphasizes in speeches made to the invisible jury (played, with great effect, to the audience) that she is very ill, and a victim of her circumstance (Mr. Black also briefly takes on the role of a very slimy pastor from Marie's past, demonstrating the all too real highly sexist and impossible standards that women - particularly as mothers - can be held to in fundamentalist religious organizations).

It is a delight to see two actors who are so evenly matched on the stage together; their performances are highlighted by exemplary sound and lighting design by Desirea Tapia and technical direction by Issac Scarlott. The score, by Pura's husband William Pura, beautifully, and at times, chillingly, accompanies the action (particularly Ms. Pura's aerial performance).

Demons of the Mind addresses some very difficult topics with grace and honesty, and while it doesn't really present answers to any questions it raises, that's okay - a piece of theatre that makes the audience think, consider, and feel is more than enough.

Demons of the Mind runs Thursday through Sunday from April 18th through 28th at Warehouse 21. Tickets may be purchased online at https://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/4189124 or at the door.


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From This Author Zoe Burke