Make no mistake about it. Writers rarely perform their personal confessions. Stories of real-life struggles are often told in memoirs, where wrenching personal details can be observed from a safe distance.
But Losing My Religion: Confessions of a New Age Refugee, which opened last night at the Capital Fringe Festival, is a rare piece of work. And passive observation of personal struggle is a luxury that Lepore refuses to provide his audience.
On the second floor of an abandoned New York Avenue warehouse, writer and performer Seth Lepore stands alone on an empty stage and tells a captivating story of his spiritual coming of age. With honesty, empathy, and–surprisingly–humor, he describes his attempt to tackle the big questions in life. You know, the ones about faith and God and stuff.
But this is not your neighbor’s story of religious rebirth. Lepore instead takes his audience on a more complicated journey. He shows the comfort of belonging to a spiritual community–of practicing a religion, reading self-help books or attending yoga retreats. He also shows the perils of trying to embark on a spiritual journey when you have the intensity of a true believer but the direction of a lost soul.
Lepore begins his solo show by taking viewers back to his adolescence, when he started to question his devotion to the Catholic church. Unconvinced by his priest’s warnings about the dire fate of non-believers, Lepore disavows organized religion and the seemingly endless restrictions that it places upon its followers (and…okay, the one in particular that prohibits sexual self-pleasure).
But within the span of 50 minutes, he takes this story of religious doubt and transforms it into a parable that shows finding faith as much harder than simply believing or not believing. He describes his spiritual journey as a process of learning how to listen closely, trust intuition, and ask questions. Lots of questions.
After abandoning Catholicism, Lepore quickly takes up Buddhism–and then quickly abandons it. He tries doing yoga. He attends weekend retreats and becomes hooked on the intimacy of sharing secrets with total strangers. He watches infomercials and buys products that promote personal growth. And all along the way, he tries to understand what it means to feel “mindful” and “present.”
He narrates his journey through comedic impersonations—including, for example, a hyped-up salesman of self-help products and a woman in treatment for addiction to personal growth. And it is through these impressions that Lepore also shows off his integrity as a writer, directing the audience’s laughter at a commentary on the faux-spirituality industry, rather than the motivations of people who buy into it.
Although Lepore at times struggles to sustain the energy of his performance, he always recaptures his viewers’ attention with his honest, poignant monologues. In these breaks from comedy, he discusses his apparent loneliness and desperate need for spiritual fulfillment. He also discusses the comfort that he ultimately finds in the simple recognition that, as he says, “this life is sacred.”
If great art, much like spirituality, provides more questions than answers, then the highest compliment that I can offer Seth Lepore is that he left his audience wondering, “What does it all mean?”
You have 4 more chances to see Losing My Religion at The Bedroom – Fort Fringe, 610 L Street NW, Washington, DC.