Review: 'Inanimate,' the Opening Act at New Flea Theater

From left: Michael Oloyede, Nancy Quintana, Lacy Allen and Artem Kreimer. Photo by Hunter Canning

Sep. 13, 2017

I can see the new Flea theater on Thomas Street from my apartment window. As a theater lover, I have watched the construction with longing—impatient for the doors to open. Now with the inaugural show in the new building, “Inanimate” by Nick Robideau, I’m declaring my crush. The Flea is not only the theater I live closest to, it’s one of the nicest. But I might not have voiced such ardent sentiments before I saw this play—a paean to love of all kinds performed by some delightful, passionate young actors, all members of the Flea’s in-house troupe, the Bats, and a Dairy Queen sign, a teddy bear and a can opener.

Small town life can be suffocating, especially for anyone with a non-conformist streak. Erica, the main protagonist of “Inanimate,” is more than a little different and has trouble fitting into her Massachusetts town, despite living there for all of her 30 years. It’s not just her pink hair and Goth eyes. Erica, played by Lacy Allen, has a thing for things. She is, in fact, in love with a Dairy Queen sign. That is not a typo. Hers isn’t silent longing, this is full-on passion that requires frequent trysts in the DQ parking lot with Dee as Erica has named the sign. Allen’s portrayal of this idiosyncratic lovelorn woman is a triumph. She exudes full-body yearning for the DQ sign even before we meet his on stage persona—Philip Feldman dressed in graffiti covered white leather in the DQ brand colors like a surreal rockabilly. The writing, too, gives colorful life to the liberating feelings love can bring: “You unscrunched me,” Erica tells her swain.

If all this sounds precious and, well, silly, it’s not. Instead, it’s high whimsy with a clever comedic touch. Erica’s is a real condition, called objectum sexuality (I had to look it up after the show) where you fall in love with inanimate objects. Prior to the sign, Erica loved her teddy, a stapler and a very raunchy can opener. All these objects and more are brought engagingly to life by a versatile “chorus” of three actors: Artem Kreimer, Nancy Titiana Quintana and Michael Oloyede as the can opener. In its examination of the wilder sides of love, the play fits nicely into the zeitgeist of gender fluidity and the rejection of cisnormativity, that is, sticking with the gender you are assigned at birth (and another new word for me).

Erica’s sister Trish, a straight-laced local politician, would probably have to look up cisgender, too. Tressa Preston as Trish represents the conventional outlook where boy meets girl and marriage follows. She cannot begin to understand her sister. But a chance encounter with an old high school classmate, another misfit, in the DQ parking lot, allows Erica to be true to herself. Maki Borden as Kevin emanates kindness, empathy and thwarted ambition. He has nurtured a crush on Erica since high school but that doesn’t mean he’s straightforwardly straight. His own openness about his gender fluidity prompts Erica to tell the truth about her own orientation and while Kevin becomes her living and breathing companion, he also unjudgmentally hooks her up with the virtual community of others with her proclivities.

All this takes place on the compact stage of the Flea’s new basement space, the Siggy (named for Sigourney Weaver). With Courtney Ulrich’s fluid direction and Yu-Hsuan Chen’s flexible set, the action doesn’t feel confined. Indeed, nothing feels small about the iconic beacon of the Dairy Queen sign that towers (in our imagination) above the stage. This play (in it’s world premiere) is a smart and charming choice for the new venue as it leaves the audience with a warm, fuzzy feeling and appetite, if not full on yearning, for what the Flea will do next.

Inanimate is playing through Sept. 30 at The Flea, 20 Thomas Street

Written by Nick Robideau, directed by Courtney Ulrich

Cast includes: Lacy Allen, Maki Borden, Philip Feldman, Artem Kreimer, Nancy Tatiana Quintana, Michael Oloyode

Run time: 85 minutes, no intermission