Show of hands if you feel more inhibited now than, oh, say, three years ago?
If actual therapy is not an option, INHIBITIONIST(!) — unabashedly all caps with bold punctuation — is your ticket to shedding some of your pandemic pelt, or even the crusty armor built up since birth.
In this one-woman existential exhibition directed by Rhianna Basore and Cleo DeOrio, performance artist-playwright Hope Lafferty, who is also a bona fide psychotherapist and spent her COVID cocoon in clown school, demands you escape your comfort zone. First clue: caution tape wrapped around a padded box center stage, which turns out to be her costar.
This is no laugh-a-minute comedy, but through playfulness and wordplay, Lafferty manages to connect harrowing details of her preemie birth and accident-prone youth to life lessons writ large. She even enumerates them (e.g., Lesson No. 1: “If you have fun, you will get hurt”).
The show is one of this year’s imports, having premiered at the Fresno (California) Rogue Festival on March 6, 2020, just a week before coronavirus lockdowns. Indeed, Lafferty seemed to parachute in within an hour of curtain time, half-made-up, pinning her own poster to the door, dodging patrons in the lobby, lugging a bright-yellow “carpetbag” into the green room.
But if her arrival at the festival was last-minute, most everything else about her seems ahead of her time. Emerging onstage in a head-to-toe white ensemble — a clean slate — topped with a type of lab coat (things are about to get clinical), she muddies her monologue with material that might fly over some heads: comparing the child development theories of Sigmund Freud to those of her hero, Erik Erikson; dissecting the effects of birth order; interpreting her astrological natal charts. It’s heady stuff. More relatable is her analysis of women’s microaggressions, maternal-child conflicts, and the tendency for self-sabotage. Lafferty’s piercing eye contact gives the impression she’s speaking only to you. One drawback: While thought-provoking, it’s hard to engage emotionally.
Lafferty is at her best eschewing all words and launching Evil Knievel–style into a mimed recap set to a soundtrack of ambient music and Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks.” Never fear: Hope does reign.
Designed to embolden passive onlookers, INHIBITIONIST(!) is a headstrong attempt to tame demons and let loose one’s inner child. At a spry 50-something, Lafferty admits she has a dominant “Lucy Van Pelt” gene and the Doctor Is In — costing you only about 35 cents a minute.
Running Time: 40 minutes.
The complete 2023 Capital Fringe Festival guidebook is online here.