This review of Nick Robideau's Inanimate at The Flea Theater was written by Dr. Thomas Robert Stevens and published in Volume X, Issue 7 (2017) of the online edition of Applause! Applause!
Written by Nick Robideau
Directed by Courtney Ulrich
Scene Design by Yu-Hsuan Chen
Costume Design by Sarah Lawrence
Lighting Design by Becky Heisler McCarthy
Sound Design by Megan Culley
Production Stage Managed by Gina Solebello
The Flea Theater (Siggy)
20 Thomas Street
New York, New York 10007
Objectophilia is a type of fetish. It is identified when a person is romantically and sexually attracted to an inanimate object. When Erica (Lacy Allen) was in 9th grade, she fell in love with a stapler on her teacher's desk. She eventually swiped it and kept it in her bed for two years. Later, she got into bigger things - like the gazebo in the park. She said, "It felt good to be surrounded." Erica decided not to go off to college since she couldn't bring the gazebo with her. Finally, six months ago, she fell in love with Dee - the Dairy Queen sign. As Inanimate opens, Erica is in the process of admitting that fact to herself. Dee's energy is male and Erica is sexually turned on by the way the light of the sign shines on her. It makes her feel safe. She also feels the buzz of electricity flowing through the sign's pole and while sexual intercourse is not possible in this instance, Erica gets off basically through touching and rubbing. Erica tells Dee (Philip Feldman), "The thing is - I love you." and then says to herself, "The whole world feels different now and nothing is ever going to be the same."
The Dairy Queen sign is not the only object Erica has a relationship with. In her bedroom, located in her older sister's house, she speaks with a lamp (Artem Kreimer), a stuffed animal (Nancy Tatiana Quintana), and a leather can opener (Michael Oloyede), each brilliantly brought to life by the actor who becomes the personification of each object. These things are her friends but she also uses them to help her masturbate. Erica eventually tries to have sexual intercourse with Kevin (Maki Borden), a friend from High School who works at the Dairy Queen, but she finds she can only remain aroused if the objects in Kevin's apartment speak to her. She tells Trish (Tressa Preston), her sister, "Kevin doesn't make me feel like I want to turn into a statue so I guess that's good." Kevin initially had the same reaction to Erica's objectophilia as you probably had and suggests a good therapist that might be able to cure her but, in time, he accepts her peculiar inclinations because he likes her and doesn't want to stand in the way of her happiness. He even gives her a job at the Dairy Queen. Kevin identifies with the rejection and scorn Erica has experienced since he was treated in a similar manner when he first told his dad he rejected labels and was open to sleeping with both men and women. Kevin has had a crush on Erica ever since High School (they are both now 30 years old) and would like her to feel the same about him but the best she can offer is a non-exclusive relationship (after all, she is in love with Dee). Plus, ever since Kevin first slept with Tommy, a good glass-blower at the King Richard Renaissance Faire, he has been sleeping with a lot of other men but he says, "When I date a guy, that's between me and Dionysus."
Trish, Erica's older sister, is in the process of trying to get voters to pass a Downtown Renovation Bill and hopes to use the victory there as a stepping stone to run for State Senate. A caller to a local television show Trish is on reveals Erica was seen in a grocery store placing a can opener under her blouse for sexual pleasure. Erica eventually comes out to Trish telling her, "I met someone and his name is Dee - he's a sign." In one of the funniest lines in the play, Trish asks, "A sign of what?" Things don't go well after that. Erica is forced to move out and Trish uses her influence to have the Dairy Queen sign torn down as part of the Downtown Renovation. Out of work, Kevin and Erica move into the North Adams Motel, where the motel sign (with female energy) starts to flirt with her. But Erica is not ready for a new relationship. She preserved a piece of colored glass from the Dairy Queen sign. As she holds it up to the light, she tells Dee, "I still feel you. Light shining through glass. Look at you shine. You are glowing. You are radiant."
As humans, we develop sexual attractions primarily based on past experiences. Early childhood fantasies, pornographic magazines, photographs, and physical interactions with others provide the source material for masturbation and the reward that comes from that act is the reinforcement that makes those thoughts and experiences "lock-in" as stimulating elements of our sexuality. There are probably as many "sexualities" as there are people in the world - tops and bottoms, straight and gay, those turned on by leather, animals, big tits, small feet, fat asses, hairy bears, uniforms, etc. In a tolerant world, you would only want to make such behavior illegal if it directly harmed others. A psychiatrist might argue that a person only needs therapy if the sexual turn on has become an obsession that interferes with the ability of that person to lead a productive life. Erica is attracted here to objects and she believes they are speaking to her. Should we accept her "sexual orientation" as we do in the case of homosexuality, or is her aberration an abnormality suggestive of schizophrenia. Should there be any limits to our tolerance? Trish, Erica's older sister, promised their mom (who died 7 months earlier) she would take care of her. Erica clearly had mental problems and Trish observes, "you've regressed since mom died." Even Erica is concerned about her sanity. At one point in the play, she says, "Am I crazy? Please tell me I'm not crazy." She even justifies her object-frotteurism as being healthier than allowing a man to enter her with "a dick - a major source of unsanitary germs." The major challenge for audience members is to decide whether you think society and Erica's friends should accept and support her "sexuality" or whether Trish is right when she says that "part of taking care of someone is making the hard decisions you know are for the best."
Inanimate is a thought-provoking play with an extraordinary cast. If you can handle the subject matter, I highly recommend it as a must-see show of the season. Tickets are $35.00 and can be purchased online at www.theflea.org or via the Box Office extension at 212.353.3101.