Refrigerator is a play about the future. A dystopian future, of course. Playwright Lucas Baisch speculates that some day we will be willing to get rid of our physical bodies and allow our consciousness to be uploaded to some digital memory bank in the sky.
In a world premiere production by First Floor Theater, this is happening courtesy of a corporation called Icebox and Co. (“We’re the premiere transitional service….”) The play is set in its cluttered office, furnished with old technology like desktop computers with monitors, corded telephones and a tier of digital wall monitors. The office (set design by William Boles) is shabby, littered with paper, and falling ceiling tiles. It doesn’t fit the mold of a 21st century tech company, let alone one in the presumably technically advanced future.
The playbill includes “IceBox Rules of Engagement,” which point out that “IceBox operates in a parallel reality, a now adjacent to the one you just came from…. Aspects of this now may feel foreign, others very familiar.” The problem with Refrigerator is that it doesn’t feel enough like a parallel universe, but more like a skewed, messy version of today.
Hutch Pimentel directs this office drama, which includes typical office behavior like microwave lunch prep, golf and sex breaks, worry about promotions and the company’s financial stresses. Icebox has lots of competitors, all helping people get rid of their physical bodies (dumped in chemicals, dissolved to mush). They’re rapidly depleting the world of customers, pedestrians and audience members; hence the abundance of empty movie theaters and shopping malls. Nochlin (Avi Roque) and Mitchell (Shariba Rivers) are IceBox middle managers.
One of the lovers, Benjamin, the PR chief (Andrew Cutler) has won the lottery and is next on the list for ascension. His partner, Roland (Nathaniel Andrew) is an underpaid tech/admin who turns tricks on the side to supplement his income. In several hotel room scenes with Krauss (Kevin Stangler), the man who pays him, Roland barks out orders and takes the leadership role he doesn’t find at work.
Refrigerator was commissioned by the Goodman Theatre as part of the 2016-17 Playwrights Unit. Baisch says in an interview that he became interested in the question of the body’s relation to technology while reading works by Philip K. Dick and Dennis Cooper. He says he wants to “create narratives for the stage about the marginalized person’s ethical relationship to the digital.”
Pimentel’s direction moves the action along and features good performances by the whole cast, especially by Andrew as Roland and Rivers as Mitchell. Jared Gooding handles lighting design with sound design by Thomas Dixon and video design by Sid Branca.
Refrigerator by First Floor Theater continues through June 9 at the Den Theatre, 1333 N Milwaukee. The play runs about 100 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are $10-20 for performances Thursday-Sunday.