Taliesin McEnaney‘s Brain Storm is described as “a poetic, visually arresting and comically haunting look at the ramifications of brain surgery and how one woman finds her way in a reality that is forever different.”
It is all of this and more…
This latest production of Brain Storm by Lucid Ludic and Why Not Theatre, aims to help audiences understand what living with a brain injury does to a person. In this case, a young woman named Kate (Shayna Virginillo). The play also aims to address the question of whether our brains are all magic or machines, or both.
Brain Storm presents us various parts of Kate’s life as she attempts to find her bearings living with a brain injury caused by a surgery required to save her life. The story is told in a non-linear manner to help us understand what life is like for Kate now.
Post surgery, Kate has to start her life from scratch so to speak. It tells the story of a conversation with some Neurosurgeons both pre and post-operation. It was extremely life-like too. Kate cannot see the left side of the world; she experiences loss of consciousness from time to time; her timeline is definitely not linear; she also experiences and perceives speech as slurred; and she has forgotten how to read and write. Virginillo does well in helping us understand Kate’s state of mind. This is typical of people living with a brain injury, which is why most people will seek the guidance of brain injury legal experts, particularly if the accident which caused their injury was the result of negligence from someone else.
Her best friend (Alexandra Montagnese) tries to help Kate continue on an unfinished theatre piece. Montagnese is pure fun in this role. She has the best of intentions but is unable to fully grasp the extent of disarray, confusion, and discombobulation Kate experiences day in and day out.
Intertwined with snippets of Kate’s daily life, we come to see her memories of her grandmother (Hayley Carr) come to life. Her grandmother used to be a medium for spirits, including neurosurgeon Dr. Wilder Penfield (Maïza Dubhé and Montagnese). Taking us back in time and space, Penfield’s appearance serves to study (pun intended) the magic that exists within the brain while also exploring how it acts like a machine.
Dubhé and Montagnese are conduits for Penfield’s spirit. The scene where one (Montagnese) voices the neurosurgeon and the other (Dubhé) embodies him through movement is excellently timed. A standout scene to be sure.
The excellent cast composed of Hayley Carr, Dubhé, Montagnese and Virginillo also use their bodies to move about the stage to help emphasize the topsy turvy parts of Kate’s world.
Kate’s symptoms and memories are elegantly presented by the use of multimedia visuals and sounds. Projections by Melissa Joakim come alive against four hospital screens on wheels.
Sound design by Olivia Shortt also help complement the mood of each scene. Set and costumes by Will Bezek are simple yet effective in evoking timelines and space which include Kate’s childhood memories with her grandmother, to visual disturbances, to Kate’s cognitive tests while at the hospital with her neurologist.
McEnaney, both writer and director of the show, has drawn on the work of famous Dr. Wilder Penfield, the writings of her spiritual medium grandmother, and a brain injury in her own family to craft this unique piece of physical theatre in collaboration with members of the cast.
Altogether Brain Storm is a creative, funny, moving and thought provoking piece of theatre. It is a sensory experience that lingers in the mind. I am definitely looking forward to what members of Lucid Ludic dream up for us next.