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"What are you doing here?"
"Maybe I had a little inkling that you might stop by. Seems like you make it kind of a habit of coming by after hours."
"Well, um, it's just... the sign. It's really pretty all lit up at night."

Lacy Allen and Philip Feldman (Photo: Hunter Canning)
In a small Massachusetts town, Erica (Lacy Allen) falls for Dee (Philip Feldman). She loves his warmth, his radiance, the way her spine tingles when they touch. But when she starts spending most nights at his place, it raises more than a few eyebrows throughout the community. That's because Dee's place is a parking lot outside a Dairy Queen, and he is an electric sign.

Inanimate, written by Nick Robideau, wears some trappings of the traditional rom-com, but is unique in its focus on objectum sexuality, or an attraction to inanimate objects. Its world premiere at The Flea (which also inaugurates the theater's new digs on Thomas Street) is directed by Courtney Ulrich. Under her watch, the play manages to navigate a sometimes uneasy line between a comedic take on an unconventional relationship and a more serious story about the difficulty of coming to terms with our desires, especially when those fall outside the norms of the world around us.

A crucial distinction to note is that the comedy in Inanimate doesn't ever take the nature of Erica's attractions as fodder per se. Rather, it chooses to find humor in the friction between the world as she sees it and as others do, or in the awkwardness of opening up to other people. Allen plays the role with such sincerity and genuineness that it's easy to identify with her even without sharing the sexual preferences that define her experience here.

Erica's friend and co-worker Kevin is similarly realized by Maki Borden. As a character Kevin can seem as if he's painted in broad strokes. He's an underachiever who passed up a chance to move to Boston to stay within his comfort zone, working at Dairy Queen and playing Dungeons and Dragons, continuing to long after his high school crush.

Borden's portrayal brings humanity to a character that could play as a caricature, and Robideau takes pains to make more of the relationship between Erica and Kevin than just the savior/saved dynamic that so often results in "boy meets girl" stories like this. While this is primarily Erica's story, both characters have their own defined, clearly articulated struggles and stakes, and neither character exists just for the sake of advancing the other's story.

When the play ventures away from what's the central triangle of sorts between Erica, Kevin, and Dee (embodied by Feldman as a punk rock type), it risks losing its footing. A subplot involving Erica's sister Trish (Tressa Preston), a local politician who finds her agenda threatened by Erica's outsider status in the town, feels forced as a shortcut to family drama. And the rest of the people in the town can come across as cartoons, like modern-day versions of the pitchfork-wielding mobs coming for Frankenstein's monster.

That cartoonish style fits better for the chorus of other objects Erica encounters (Artem Kreimer, Michael Oloyede, and Nancy Tatiana Quintana). We get a taste of each object as Erica perceives it —a teddy bear is cuddly and playful; an old lamp dresses like a 70s disco regular; a can opener, adorned in full BDSM regalia, exudes raw sexual energy.

Costume designer Sarah Lawrence quite effectively uses outfits to encapsulate the essence of each object. This is especially true for Dee, whose outfit is gritty with all the graffiti adorning the sign's base.

Scenic designer Yu-Hsuan Chen makes efficient use of the Flea's new Siggy theater (named in honor of Sigourney Weaver), creating several well-dressed environments within a small space and requiring minimal work during scene changes. The spatial changes, as well as the shifts between "objective" perception and Erica's, are well marked by Becky Heisler McCarthy's lighting design and Megan Culley's sound design.

The space itself more or less preserves the intimacy of the Flea's former basement theater while offering many improvements on the technical side — not to mention far more comfortable seats. And the democratic spirit of the old Flea endures here, as well, with the performers—members of The Bats, the Flea's resident (and, yes, still unpaid) acting company—continuing to perform front of house functions before the show.

One can't help but wonder what Erica might think of the space and the objects that inhabit it. What is the essence of one of these new, nicer seats? Would she miss the low-key informality of the old folding chairs?

The charm of Inanimate is its ability to intrigue us by the suggestion that another world lives within our own. It doesn't treat Erica's objectum sexuality as a curiosity, a psychosis, or an amusement, but rather as just a part of an individual. In creating that portrait of an individual, Inanimate's tenderness and quirky humor make for a lively combination.

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Inanimate by Nick Robideau
Directed by Courtney Ulrich

with Lacy Allen (Erica), Maki Borden (Kevin), Philip Feldman (Dee), Tressa Preston (Trish), Artem Kreimer (Chorus 1), Nancy Tatiana Quintana (Chorus 2), Michael Oloyede (Chorus 3)
Scenic Design: Yu-Hsuan Chen
Costume Design: Sarah Lawrence
Lighting Design: Becky Heisler McCarthy
Sound Design: Megan Culley
Assistant Director: Claire Edmonds
Production Stage Manager: Gina Solebello
Movement Consultant: Caitlin Cassidy for LubDub Theatre Company
Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission
The Flea Theater, 20 Thomas Street
Tickets: From $15, with the lowest priced tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis; 212-352-3101 or
From 8/21/2017; opened 8/30/2017; closing 10/1/2017
Performance times: Thursday–Monday at 7 pm, with Sunday matinees at 3 pm
Reviewed by Jacob Horn based on 9/11/2017 performance

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