Tuesday, September 12, 2017

64 (2017-2018): Review: INANIMATE (seen September 11, 2011)

“The Objects of Her Affection”

Perhaps if more people like Erica in Nick Robideau’s Inanimate come out of the closet it’ll be necessary to add an O to the LGBTQ acronym. It would stand for object sexuality or objectophilia, that is, a person’s attraction, emotionally and sexually, to inanimate objects. There’s even a website called Objectum-Sexuality Internationale where thing-lovers can share their experiences. Objectophiles love, not just small items, but structures like the Eiffel Tower (which led archer Erika LaBrie to marry it and then call herself Erika Eiffel) and the Statue of Liberty. A YouTube video of a woman embracing and petting a toilet bowl shows the extent to which this condition can lead you: it’s not quite what Rodgers and Hammerstein had in mind when writing “These Are a Few of My Favorite Things.”

Lacy Allen, Artem Kreimer. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Bizarre as it may seem to most of us, then, the transgressive love affair in Robideau’s play is not so far-fetched. Only mildly tongue in cheek, Inanimate, which runs 90 minutes, takes place in a small Massachusetts town where, after their mother’s death, Erica Grilli (Lacy Allen), a quirky, pink-haired, 30-year-old loner, has been living with her politically active sister, Trish (Tressa Preston).

Trish, a selectwoman who’s seeking to redevelop the town’s downtown, sees Erica’s behavior as a threat to her ambitions. That behavior is the outcome of Erica’s affection for a sexy Dairy Queen sign, which she calls Dee (Philip Feldman); we see only the pole holding Dee up while its persona is represented by a punky, Danny Zuko-like dude with blue hair, white face, and red eyeliner, wearing a white motorcycle jacket splashed with blue and red designs.
Lacy Allen, Philip Feldman. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Regardless of her attraction to Dee, whose pole she’s inclined to hump, Erica’s not exclusive: “Monogamy’s kind of impossible in a relationship like this,” she says. Other things she’s got the hots for include a small teddy bear, a standing lamp, and the fancy can opener that got her fired from her supermarket job when a customer complained about her fondling the thing at her checkout counter.

Like Dee, these objects are played both by themselves and by a chorus of three actors in costumes (cleverly designed by Sarah Lawrence) that merely hint at what they represent, like the guy (Michael Oloyede) in rough-trade, black leather playing the can opener. These busy actors also portray a variety of other roles, from a supermarket manager (Artem Kreimer) to the DQ manager (Nancy Tatiana Quintana).
Lacy Allen, Maki Borden. Photo: Hunter Canning.
To underline his goal of inclusiveness and self-acceptance in a sexually biased world Robideau introduces a suitable suitor for Erica’s affections, a lovably scruffy DQ worker named Kevin (Maki Borden), a case of arrested development who had a high school crush on Erica; Kevin takes pride in being nonjudgmental and in his sexual flexibility. Rejecting “bi” as “so 1998,” he insists he’s “not exactly into labels” regarding his gender preferences. Kevin’s the kind of cool nerd (clearly too smart for his DQ job) who collects geeky things like Dungeons and Dragons figures; it’s a shame Robideau doesn’t make more of the incipient objectophilia such collecting implies.
Michael Oloyede, Nancy Tatiana Quintana, Lacy Allen, Artem Kreimer. Photo: Hunter Canning.
The play instead focuses on the way in which Kevin and Erica work out how best to accommodate their peculiar relationship while they struggle to defend Dee from imminent demolition as part of Trish’s project. Robideau’s writing veers between realism and surrealism, mingled with poetic expression and an accent on the comic, but he manages to make Erica’s dilemma sympathetic without turning her into a freak. 
Lacy Allen, Philip Feldman. Photo: Hunter Canning.
Still, it’s never quite clear just how much he’s parodying Erica’s OS and how much he’s taking it seriously. For example, creating dialogue for the objects, allusive as it may be, with Erica suggests that, even if we accept her sexual predilections as different but somehow normal, she may be more in need of psychological help than the play allows. As it is, Robideau offers no explanation for her condition, expecting us to simply accept it and move on. 

Courtney Ulrich’s imaginative direction, helped enormously by Megan Culley’s terrific mood-setting soundscape, keeps the intensity level high throughout. The company, made up of members of the Flea’s young actors-in-training, the Bats, is amusingly animated, although their roles are little more than cartoons. Allen and Borden, in the leads, are fresh presences with a wide variety of histrionic bullets in their performing arsenals. Their roles, too, sometimes incline toward the outlandish, but, they nonetheless retain a grounded believability.  

Inanimate is the inaugural play at the Flea’s attractive new home at 20 Thomas Street, a few blocks away from its place on White Street. It’s in a space called the Siggy, named for Flea co-founder Sigourney Weaver, and, just as at the tiny, downstairs, White Street venue, you get to it via a narrow flight to its basement location. (There are two larger theatres upstairs.)

The space, which replaces the old metal chairs with 44 comfortable new ones, retains a stage whose structural components—in this case, a series of thick pillars—are vaguely reminiscent of the upstage wall in the former theatre. As in the past, they’re incorporated into the simple scenic design, here credited to Yu-Hsuan Chen, with effective lighting by Becky Heisler McCarthy.

Inanimate reveals a promising playwright in Nick Robideau although, unlike raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, I have to admit it’s not one of my favorite things.


The Flea Theater
20 Thomas St., NYC
Through October 1