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Inanimate

Fascinating and fresh new play can’t decide if it is a metaphor, comedy or a study of a real life fetish.

Lacy Allen and Philip Feldman in a scene from “Inanimate” (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief

Erika Grillo has a secret, one she has never told anyone. Living with her older sister Trish, an ambitious selectwoman in their small Massachusetts town, rent free since their mother died seven months ago, even her sister doesn’t know her secret. Trish thinks Erika’s depression is owing to their mutual loss. When Erika loses her job at a supermarket where she had gotten carried away, her depression only gets worse. However, she rediscovers an old acquaintance, Kevin, a classmate who has had a crush on her since their school days – though he has a secret of his own which eventually makes it possible for her to tell him of her fetish. Now turning thirty, Kevin has worked in the local Dairy Queen since he was 17.

In fact, Erika is in love with “Dee,” literally the Dairy Queen sign and spends her evenings in the parking lot in order to be close to him (she feels his male energy). In medical terms, she has a case of objectum sexuality or objectophilia in which a person is attracted not to people, but to inanimate objects. Lest you think author Nick Robideau has made this up, Google it and discover that this condition has been diagnosed quite a while ago.

Performed by The Bats, the resident company of The Flea Theater, the world premiere of Inanimate is the inaugural production in their new home on Thomas Street, between Church and Broadway, several blocks south of their original premises. Performed in The Siggy, named after founder and patron Sigourney Weaver, a house with 46 permanent seats, it is the first of the three new theaters to open prior to the complex’s grand opening on September 28. It has been given a sharp, assured staging by director Courtney Ulrich with engrossing performances by its cast of seven.

Michael Oloyede, Nancy Tatiana Quintana, Lacy Allen and Artem Kreimer in a scene from “Inanimate” (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

The problem with the production is that Ulrich has not made up her mind as to whether the play is a metaphor about our obsession with things, a comedy on a far-out subject, or a serious study of a real life fetish. One never knows whether to laugh or to cry at Erika’s predicament which makes human relationships difficult. Nevertheless, the writing is often poetic and the acting is first rate. Led by Lacy Allen as a charmingly confused Erika, the cast devours their roles with the authenticity of a new classic. Inanimate joins the ranks of plays by Annie Baker and Lucy Thurber which deal with characters in dead-end towns in New England.

A chorus of three made up of Artem Kreimer, Nancy Tatiana Quintana and Michael Oloyede play various townspeople as well as Erika’s favorite domestic objects, a sassy lamp, a sentimental stuffed bear and a seductive can opener, respectively, who speak in a heightened language. In addition, Dee, Erika’s love interest, representing the Dairy Queen sign, is played by the solid Philip Feldman in a colorful red, white and blue jacket.

The pivotal role aside from the shy and introverted Erika is Kevin played by Maki Borden. Borden turns this into a tour de force as the archetypical loner who has all his life felt out of the swim of things. He has dreams of leaving town and beginning a new life in a bigger and more exciting place but he can never seem to find the energy to do it. While all can identify with his feeling of being left out, Borden brings such specificity to his role that he makes him a unique creation. With a wry sense of humor and a tolerant heart, his Kevin is a memorable characterization. On the other hand, Tressa Preston as the officious Trish is rather one dimensional and more comic than needs be, without being a satiric character. Demonstrating their versatility, chorus members Kreimer also appears as a hearty television host, Quintana as the Dairy Queen’s all-business owner, and Oloyede as a Desk Clerk who precipitates the play’s ending.

Lacy Allen and Maki Borden in a scene from “Inanimate” (Photo credit: Hunter Canning)

Yu-Hsuan Chen’s unit setting makes excellent use of The Siggy apron-like stage and historic arches, showing what can be done with the unusual space for quick transitions. Sarah Lawrence has done an excellent job of costuming the many characters, particularly the on-stage actors playing the voices of Erika’s inanimate objects. The lighting design by Becky Heisler McCarthy solves the problem of the many scenes that take place in various venues and at different times of day.

Inanimate will be joined by Syncing Ink, NSangou Njikam’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story to be staged by Niegel Smith, The Flea’s artistic director, as the first production in The Sam, which begins previewing on September 25 in the 99-seat black box theater named for legendary talent agent Sam Cohn. As of now the 66- seat theater, The Pete, an indoor-outdoor space named for the late playwright A.R. Gurney, who in recent years has written half a dozen plays premiered by the The Flea, is being used for children’s theater events.

Inanimate (extended through October 16, 2017)

The Flea Theater (new venue)

The Siggy, 20 Thomas Street, between Church and Broadway, in Manhattan

For ticket, call 212–352-3101 or visit http://www.theflea.org

Running time: 90 minutes without an intermission

Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief
About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (427 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for TheaterScene.net in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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