My fingers still have some paint residue on them as I reach out to complete a hand-holding circle around a duo in the midst of a boxing match. Through guided slow breaths and rhythmic squats we watch as both characters punch, dodge or, every so often, land a hit. We have tapped into our primal selves as a video plays over our heads on the empty fitness studio walls. It’s of one of the actors in the scene; he describes how trauma is passed down over generations, and how he overcomes his anxieties through boxing. It seems that Boxing Your Demons is overwhelming and surprisingly intimate work.
Boxing Your Demons, debuting at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival, is an immersive dark comedy that explores those ties of physical movement and inner turmoil over the course of an hour. It requests the audience come prepared for some light physical exercise to work on their inner demons with a fabulous wonder duo whose latest craze is working through cognitive dissonance (a psychology term for having conflicting thoughts and feelings inconsistent with your values or beliefs) through strategically designed exercises, both physical and mental, and a focus on modern problems that require creative solutions.
Standing triumphantly beside them, is one of many physical representations of cognitive dissonance throughout the piece, Peter (Ryan Jackson) who is consistently pushed to his limits with conflicting and oftentimes abusive instructions from the duo. Jackson’s likability makes it all the more torturous to watch when Peter comes up short to these demands time and time again. His delivery of multifaceted emotions while simultaneously hitting physical marks throughout the piece is remarkable as he navigates his inner conflict and demons with a feigned smile.
The aforementioned duo, Guy and Sheila Larpen (played by Matt Soson and Allegra Masters), have a volatile chemistry and don’t mind exploring a wide range of topics – whether it makes the audience laugh or feel uncomfortable. Their inconsistent views and squabbles lend themselves well to the play’s central theme of our modern-day identity crises, even more so when delivered through super-human exuberance under the guise of a one-size-fits-all new fitness program that obviously isn’t even working for them.
Their latest cult, I mean fitness program, blocks out the bleak thoughts and negative emotions through smoothies, body paint, and movement. They ask the audience to move often and keep up with their fast and farcical pace. Though the one time they get close to truly talking through their issues is in a vulnerable scene with Soson and Masters who touch upon relatable struggles of insecurity and revelations of disillusionment. This brief scene pulls a powerful performance from the two that dramatically shifts this comedy into darker territory.
For all that is going on in Boxing Your Demons, it can be difficult to keep up, especially when participants are asked to focus on physical exercises while monologue-driven videos or other scenes take place around them. This intentionally designed chaos manifests within participants an unreasonable request to focus on two things at once, or their own mini-representation of cognitive dissonance. This also makes Boxing Your Demons an excellent candidate for repeat viewings, should you want to make sure you didn’t miss a thing.
Boxing Your Demons is ambitiously experimental; it sometimes feels cluttered, but for good reason. Eloquently blending movement and expression with complex ideas of ethical and psychological dilemmas, the cast doesn’t miss a mark despite the constant momentum and movement the piece demands. It delivers on it’s promise of boxing, but one can assume not too many inner demons were squashed during its run. After all, the true demon as we come to learn, has been us all along.
Find out more information on Boxing Your Demons here. Keep up to date with all of our Hollywood Fringe Festival 2019 coverage here. Follow our Event Guide for more news and reviews throughout the year.