'How to Kill a Child and a Demon': Eerie tale of the search for a killer

Posted: October 06, 2011

Devils, demons, monsters, and spirits run through Donja R. Love's new play, How to Kill a Child and a Demon, a piece that becomes more and more a psychological drama as it progresses.

These unwelcome visitors are more in the mind than on the stage. The play, part of the Urban Philadelphia Theatre Festival, which has been running at the Adrienne on Sansom Street the last two weeks, works if you're willing to buy into it.

It sets up a plot in which a mother and father face life after a tragedy - a crime has left the mother injured, a 3-year-old son brain-dead, and a 6-month-old son dead. The play begins with a news conference at which the mother announces a reward, set up by her church, for information leading to the murderer, who the mother says was an intruder.

The 85-minute one-act then turns into the story of a police interrogation by an established detective (Monroe Barrick) and the department's new blood (Jessica Ludd), who just can't get along. That's the first tough sell; the 'tude between the two is nasty beyond working-together belief. The old hand is stern and cold in his resentment, the young Turk is endlessly, eye-rollingly arrogant in hers - at least, in the portrayals by Barrick and Ludd, who play these characters as extremes.

The second strain on credibility comes from the way the plot unfolds: A defense lawyer (Michael Bartlett) is present in the interrogation room, and conversations of the sort that both police and lawyers generally avoid, in order to stay out of future trouble during court cases, ensue. This, of course, happens often incidentally during crime shows on TV, but in How to Kill a Child and a Demon, it's a driver of the story.

Even so, the play has a sharp, inviting theatricality and the script, an easy rhythm - there's no doubt that Love, who teaches writing to inner-city youngsters and has written several plays, has a way with dialogue and plot. As the director, too, he moves How to Kill a Child and a Demon along with an aptly changing momentum, particularly in a key scene with the mother and father of the dead and brain-dead children, played convincingly by DeAnna Wright and Tobi Gadison.

So, the play has its moments, good and bad. The bad ones come from an interplay of characters that feels too easy, without nuance. The good ones come in a smooth narrative arc with psychological elements that make it all the more interesting.

How to Kill a Child and a Demon

Through Sunday at the Adrienne Theatre 2d Stage, 2030 Sansom St. Tickets: $20. Information: www.putf.org.

Contact staff writer Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727, hshapiro@phillynews.com, or #philastage on Twitter. Hear his reviews at the Classical Network, www.wwfm.org. Follow our theater coverage at www.philly.com/phillystage or on Facebook.

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