One of the great pleasures of touring for me is the degree to which it expands the art that I get exposed to. Those who don’t – still get a sample of that, by witnessing the touring entertainers who breeze through locally, but you really get a crash course in the diversity of what’s out there when you’re thrown out of your own comfort zone. Doing Kansas City has even allowed me to expand my Fringe criticism by reviewing shows before they make it to Minneapolis; the flip side of that is that I often get the opportunity to catch shows I missed afterwards.
One such show (that I regrettably missed at the MN Fringe) was Seth Lepore’s Losing My Religion, which was recently one of my editor Jay Gabler’s top ten plays of 2011, and in my opinion deservedly so – it’s easily in the running for best show of the 2011 Fringe for me, and that’s counting four Festivals. The premise is simple enough (and one that I was eyeing with wary interest when I first saw the PR for it) – it’s a one-man show by a man who went through the identity crisis that so many of us have, and responded to it by flinging himself into one religious or self-help program (and they are at times indistinguishable) after another.
There are several things striking about the show, and one is the sheer diversity of the programs that he pushed himself through, expounding upon what are often wildly contradictory philosophies, many of which are startlingly seductive. The various gurus and self-styled holy men he impersonates for us aren’t wholly the objects of ridicule; in many cases they seem strangely vulnerable, and scatter nuggets of genuine insight amidst their own hucksterism.
He’s certainly a skilled impressionist – well, I don’t know that that’s true, since I don’t know the people that he’s impersonating – but I certainly know their type, and his performances are both consistently entertaining while displaying surprising levels of complexity. The wariness in my interest was borne of a fear that this would be similar to so many other shows of this nature that I’ve seen, that become as guilty as the ideas they ridicule. Instead, I found that rarest of creatures: good satire.
I suspected that an hour only gave us a hint of the personalities he’d run across, and I’m delighted to find my suspicion confirmed: Losing My Religion represented the first chapter of a trilogy of shows, the second of which, SuperHappyMelancholyexpialidocious, is coming to the Bryant-Lake Bowl this March 22-25. That’s right – he had a sufficiently good time at the Fringe that he was foolish enough to come back for more.
Spring hits March 20th. So what say we give him an unseasonably warm welcome?