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Fort Fringe – the Bedroom, 610 L St. NW

Remaining Performances:

Saturday, July 16 at 2 p.m.
Tuesday, July 19 at 9 p.m.

Running Time: 60 minutes

They say: “A hysterical romp through America’s spiritual enterprise. The show exposes the blurry line between self-help and faith. Yoga gurus, healthy chocolate peddlers and Buddhists with God complexes ego-trip their way toward absurdity. Do these people really exist? Yes, they do.”

Derek’s Take: Ain’t America kwayzee? Look at Aunt Vicky, spouting spooky intuition while, elsewhere, a hopped-up CEO promotes his go-go version of “lifestyle” yoga, hold the “namaste.” They’re both a part of Seth Lepore’s one-man survey of the business and promise of our national pop-spiritual enterprise, a tongue-in-cheek collection of 13 monologues (in 55 minutes!) that is a consistently funny—-if digression-prone and at times confusing—-critique of multiple secular belief systems, plus everyone’s favorite religious hegemon, the Catholic Church. The result is a trenchant and ultimately firm rejection of the false idols dotting our cultural landscape that stops short of reaching its potential.

Lepore sees these idols everywhere; they include not only life coaches trumpeting the “laws of attraction” and self-help addicts—-obvious targets both—-but also microbes from more obscure petri dishes, such as health-food hucksters and makers of devotional art. Lepore’s skilled use of different accents and gestures creates instantly recognizable characters (10 by my count) who occupy distinct portions of the “faith” spectrum. They seem pulled from the far corners of late-late-night TV and, when juxtaposed with their grounded antithesis—-Seth Lepore!—-they crackle with a smug energy that’s geared for laughs. In character, Lepore’s stage presence is considerable.

In one scene, a man-camp sergeant addresses a group of girly-men who’ve lost their mojo. Lepore, with his chest puffed forward and arms folded behind his back, cuts an imposing figure as he pushes his audience to claim its place in the world—-to say, simply, “I am.” This monologue, as with several others, feels like an improvised rant, with the sarge reminding his charges that man’s quest for authenticity precludes the finishing-school transformations popularized by reality television. After all, are Neanderthals and gentlemen not, in their own ways, men? These chucklers reflect Lepore’s preference for clever asides, but on occasion he hits on what sounds like a bit of truth; on justifying the strict schedule and many rules for his camp, his carnival-barker says, “Men get confused by choice.”

The issue of choice seems to torment the production, as Lepore struggles to straddle the delicate boundary between satire and genuine soul-searching. His effort here shortchanges the latter. The show’s transitions between scenes—-accompanied by a flash of light, as with, perhaps, epiphany—-herald a different approach for finding life’s meaning and achieving some level of contentment, if not happiness. But, in cramming in so many characters and perspectives, Lepore leaves hardly any room to examine the virtues, if any, of each character’s worldview. As he presents them, in campy infomercial form, they exist mainly as objects of ridicule, though entertaining ones. His is a show that winds up less than the sum of its parts.

His treatment might have worked had he succeeded in telling us his story, but instead Lepore hopscotches around or muddles through the key factors that have propelled him on his faith journey and, now, draw him to Buddhism. (Just hold the silly Buddhist sweater favored by unenlightened fashionistas, OK?)  He proceeds as though his awakening was foreordained and his path and beliefs are self-evident to all. The show’s program notes fill in some gaps, but its contents, as well as the closing scene where he reflects on his friend’s suicide, feel tacked on.

Without a clearer understanding of his spiritual evolution, the brief scenes where he plays himself seem comparatively deflated and lifeless next to his other, pitch-perfect characterizations.  It’s as if, despite a happy marriage and his embrace of a comfortable faith system, he is still overwhelmed by the myriad outlets for “religious” growth that America provides.

See it if: You want to experience an ambitious and often funny overview of America’s fractured “religious” landscape, but don’t want to think too hard about it.

Skip it if: You’re looking for a serious prescription for a deeper spiritual existence.