“Inanimate,” a new play by Nick Robideau about a young woman who falls in love with a Dairy Queen sign, is most noteworthy for being the first play to be presented in the new building that houses The Flea, the Off-Off Broadway theater founded by Sigourney Weaver and her husband Jim Simpson 20 years ago, with the motto “Raising a Joyful Hell in a Small Space.” Now under the leadership of Niegel Smith, The Flea’s small space has gotten larger: “Inanimate” is playing in The Siggy (named after Sigourney Weaver) one of the three new theaters in the new complex on 20 Thomas Street, four blocks further downtown from its old digs.
“Inanimate” reflects The Flea’s tradition of being untraditional, its eagerness to experiment and explore the outrageous – in this case to dramatize an actual psychological phenomenon that’s been labeled Object sexuality or Objectophilia, which describes people who do not just obsess about an object, but have sexual feelings for it. An article in Psychology Today cited real-life case studies such as Erika LaBrie, “who ‘married’ the Eiffel Tower in 2007 and now calls herself Erika Eiffel.”
In “Inanimate,” Erica (Lacy Allen) is in love with Dee, which is what she calls the sign at the local Dairy Queen in her hometown. She also has the hots for a can opener, which gets her fired from her job as a grocery store clerk when a customer complains. Her behavior also jeopardizes the downtown renewal project planned by her politician sister Trish (Tressa Preston), who is so concerned with Erica’s behavior that she schemes to have Dee demolished.
“It’s not sanitary,” Trish says. “Think of how many dogs have
probably pissed on that sign.”
“So what, I should fuck a guy instead?” Erica holds her own. “Dicks are the literal source of pee. “
“Inanimate” is full of humor, but, much to his credit, playwright Robideau is never mocking. He makes Erica not just sympathetic and credible, but the winner of every argument; he even gives her an ally – Kevin (Maki Borden), an old high school classmate who works at the Dairy Queen. Like Erica, Kevin has just turned 30, and he too has a secret sexual attraction that is looked down upon by the people in their small Massachusetts town – he is attracted to both women and men. Erica is reluctant to confess to Kevin: “…we barely even know each other, no offense…”
“Do six months of daily Blizzards mean nothing to you?” he replies.
When she finally reveals her secret, Kevin is initially confused. If Erica is enamored of Dee because of the way his light hits her, it “hits, like, dozens of people on a nightly basis”
“Sure. And I touch lots of objects every day. Monogamy’s kind of impossible in a relationship like this, so we don’t really get hung up on it.”
Director Courtney Ulrich corrals three “chorus members” to portray the literal objects of Erica’s affection, with special attention to Dee (Philip Feldman) in spot-on multicolored jacket and neon green hair. (Costumes are by Sarah Lawrence.)
But if some of these object personifications are inspired (I was partial to the can opener dressed in sexy black lace and leather), the director also has to take the hit for the highly uneven seven-member cast, selected from the Bats, the resident company at the Flea that is mostly made up of recent graduates. The play could probably benefit from some trimming in any case, but the acting makes the 90 minute running time feel way too long.
Even so, “Inanimate,” intentionally or not, is a pitch perfect choice to inaugurate 30 Thomas Street, since I am surely not the only one who is turned on by the new Flea.
The Flea Theater
Written by Nick Robideau and directed by Flea Associate Artist Courtney Ulrich.
Cast: The Bats, the resident acting company at The Flea, including Lacy Allen, Maki Borden, Philip Feldman, Artem Kreimer, Tressa Preston, Michael Oloyede, Nancy Tatiana Quintana, with understudies Marcus Antonio Jones and Alexandra Slater. Creative team: Yu-Hsuan Chen (Scenic Design), Sarah Lawrence (Costume Design), Becky Heisler (Lighting Design), Megan Culley (Sound Design) and Claire Edmonds (Assistant Director)
Inanimate runs through September 24, Thursday–Monday at 7pm, with Sunday matinees at 3pm. (Note: no performances Aug. 31 – Sept. 6 for the Labor Day holiday weekend). Tickets start at $15 with the lowest priced tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Update: Inanimate is now running through October 16, 2017.