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Lucas Baisch’s prickly technodystopia is like Philip K. Dick, emphasis on the dick.
It’s the future, and 82 percent of the world’s population has uploaded its minds into a digital paradise. One of the companies that performs this procedure is IceBox, whose employees live and work in a state of semi-chaos, earning “points” that can be used in an employee lottery to gain ascension themselves. Welcome to playwright Lucas Baisch’s Refrigerator, a piercingly surreal—and surprisingly thirsty—trip down into the techno-abyss.
In a rundown office space that doubles as its own dystopian hellscape, four IceBox employees scramble to maintain their sanity. Roland (Nathaniel Andrew) is a soft-spoken queer man who works (somewhat lackadaisically) as a technician, while his manic supervisor Nochlin (Avi Roque) threatens to have him busted. At night, Roland works a side gig as sex worker, with one frequent customer, an online professor named Krauss (Kevin Stangler), taking on particular importance.
When we first meet Mitchell (Shariba Rivers), a longtime employee, she’s guiding someone’s consciousness through the upload in a process that’s part tour guide, part guided meditation, part text-based adventure. Lastly, there’s Benjamin (Andrew Cutler), a salesman and board member offspring who’s just won the lottery and is about to be called up. He and Roland are lovers, but Benjamin doesn’t seem particularly distressed about leaving Roland behind.
Refrigerator is bristly work, with dense language and a dreamlike flow that simultaneously hypnotizes you while also keeping you at a distance. There’s a plot, yes, most of it revolving around Benjamin’s upcoming ascendance, and there are some unpleasant conspiracies that get revealed, but they all feel secondary to the play’s thematic concerns: the archetypal persistence of corporate greed; societal entropy in the face of being extremely (extremely)online; the dual carnality and violence of our fleshy forms. It’s a show that exists as a vibe more than a story.
Baisch is a great writer, with a heightened, poetical style that builds a vivid world all its own, even if the characters sometimes suffer. Benjamin, armed with Cutler’s smarmy one-percenter sneer, feels like both the least complex character here and the most fully realized. It’s an uncompromising script Baisch has written—a refreshingly queer but nonetheless obtuse eulogy for a species maybe not worth saving. Just trying to describe the show turns you into Philip K. Dick.
Director Hutch Pimentel, likewise, has delivered a production that’s hard to love but easy to admire. The performances are solid all around (Rivers and Cutler are particularly good), and the cast handles Baisch’s dialogue with aplomb. Meanwhile, the design is fantastic. William Boles’s set is a decaying marvel, while Sid Branca’s retro-video design, Thomas Dixon’s sound, Jared Gooding’s lighting, and Amanda Cantlin’s gory effects create an an unnerving, Cronenbergian ambiance. Refrigerator might be lacking a bit in the heart department, but it’s got enough brains—and buckets of other bodily fluids—to get by just fine.
First Floor Theater at the Den Theatre. By Lucas Baisch. Directed by Hutch Pimentel. With Nathaniel Andrew, Andrew Cutler, Shariba Rivers, Avi Roque, Kevin Stangler. Running time: 1hr 40mins; no intermission.