Mike Lemme‘s new play centres around a 62-year-old woman in a psychiatric ward who imagines herself in the body of a 28-year-old stand-up comedian (Maria DeCotis), which she uses to take her (imagined) audience on a journey into her mind.

Lemme doesn’t use his central concept for a novelty effect, instead using his main character to voice the stigma of mental illness and psychiatric healthcare as well as the sexism and repression of 1990s American culture that suburban housewives had to face. This ranges from limited maternity leave to the competitiveness and isolation of suburbia. Lemme also takes a shot at the double standards women faced with relationships compared with those pursued by the likes of Jerry Seinfeld and Woody Allen, which were allowed by society with minimal repercussions.

However, the part of the monologue that is most emotionally affecting is the mother’s fear that she will be abandoned by her sons and family in the hospital, really driving home the isolating effect mental illness can have on relationships of any kind. Comedian/actress DeCotis gives a constantly engaging performance as the mother, using both her comedic and acting skills to breathe life into the character and make her a fully rounded, three-dimensional human being. In particular, she can go from a quippy pop culture-referencing one-liner to an emotional account seamlessly.

Lemme’s previous Fringe work, Bathroom of a Bar on Bleecker contained a similar balance of comedy and drama, as well as a powerful central performance. However, Before the Drugs Kick In is more emotionally raw, with the life of its central character laid bare with all its injustices exposed without any sugarcoating. It marks Lemme out as an exciting and thought-provoking artistic talent who should be receiving even more attention from audiences and critics.

Before the Drugs Kick In‘ runs until 26 Aug 2023 at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall at 12.55