Writer: Nick Robideau
Director: Courtney Ulrich
Reviewer: Carrie Lee O’Dell
In 2009, American archer Erika LaBrie appeared on Good Morning America and explained to the audience that she was in love with the Eiffel Tower. In fact, she’d been married to the French landmark for two years and she’d legally changed her name to Erika Eiffel. For many Americans, this was their first exposure to objectum sexualis, a romantic, emotional, and sexual attraction to inanimate objects. Nick Robideau’s play Inanimate, the first full production in The Flea’s new downstairs venue The Siggy, explores what object sexuality might look like in small-town America.
Inanimate centers on Erica (Lacy Allen), a shy, socially awkward thirty-year-old woman who lives in her sister’s house and works at the local grocery store. She’s also an objectum sexual, though she doesn’t quite have the words to explain this to those around her. The play follows Erica as she goes public with her orientation; she sees her close relationships with her sister Trish (Tressa Preston) and friend Kevin (Maki Borden) tested as they try to understand that her love for Dee is real. Artem Kreimer, Nancy Tatiana Quintana, and Michael Oloyede make up the chorus of townspeople, media personalities, and, most notably, inanimate objects that help shape Erica’s journey.
When we first meet Erica, she’s declaring her devotion to an unseen lover. The lover, Dee (Philip Feldman), emerges, looking like a textbook bad boy—leather jacket, tousled hair, eyeliner—but with a color scheme that looks remarkably like the industrial signpost sitting at center stage. Dee, it turns out, is the sign at the local Dairy Queen. Erica’s love for Dee predictably results in her spending a lot of time at Dairy Queen, where she reconnects with Kevin, a former classmate from high school. Like Erica, Kevin is both frustrated with their small town and frightened of leaving. Both of them live with family; Erica’s mother died seven months before the beginning of the play and her protective sister Trish serves as a surrogate parent, allowing Erica to live in her home rent-free. Trish has political aspirations, though, and the town’s perception of Erica as mentally unstable isn’t helping her prospects. Both Kevin and Trish care deeply about Erica, and the different ways that love manifests in relationship to Erica’s objectum sexualis fuels much of the narrative.
Nick Robideau’s script admirably balances humor with compassion for his subjects. Erica’s passion for a Dairy Queen sign could be nothing but an easy joke, but Robideau paints such a clear picture of someone who desperately needs caring and empathy that it’s hard not to root for Erica and Dee, even while laughing at her conversations with the can openers and stuffed animals that offer her relationship advice. Under Courtney Ulrich’s direction the skilled cast’s treatment of the material aids in building sympathy for its characters, in particular Lacy Allen as Erica and Maki Borden as Kevin. Performances are thoughtful and actors are fully engaged, even when they’re playing lamps and bottles of milk. The show’s designers are to be commended as well, especially costume designer Sarah Lawrence, whose work allows the chorus members to shift quickly from residents of a small Massachusetts town into the sign posts, can openers, lamps, and stuffed animals mentioned earlier.
Inanimate is a wildly funny show, but never loses sight of its characters’ humanity, an impressive feat for a play focused on loving objects. This is an excellent show to open The Flea’s new space; it’s thoughtful, relevant, and utterly enjoyable—well worth the time.
Runs until 24 September 2017