In April, The Puppetry Journal printed a review of Object of Her Affection by Marissa Fenley as part of its coverage of the Chicago International Puppet Theatre Festival.
Marsian De Lellis’s absurdist love story, Object of Her Affection, follows Andrea, an object-sexual, through her many affairs with inanimate things—a blanket, a gun, the Berlin Wall—until her precarious attachments to unconventional objects of affection results in a deadly fall from the roof of her lover, a condemned apartment building. De Lellis’s piece does not lead us to understand Andrea’s object-sexuality (the sexual attraction to inanimate objects) as the source of the piece’s absurdism. Rather, De Lellis makes absurd the melodramatic love plot that continues to structure Andrea’s romantic attachments to things. De Lellis masterfully performs their one-person show with a vast array of puppets and props, manipulating a world of miniatures, spread out across several tables. They erect a scene where Andrea negotiates her romantic fantasies and desires for belonging in the world through the intimate and solitary act of playing with dolls. There is a haunting loneliness to De Lellis’s dramaturgy. As Andrea, played by De Lellis, recounts her love story, she acts out a desire for reciprocity that she can only find in objects. And yet, stuck in the melodramatic love plot, the objects of Andrea’s affection are determined by the genre as sources of ambivalence, disappointment, discontent, and longing.
In The Female Complaint, Lauren Berlant asserts that melodramas position love as both an inevitable source of suffering as well as the promise of its end. As a melodrama, Andrea’s object love is portrayed as a love like any other. In other words, it can conform to a set of narrative expectations. And yet, in the opening of their play, De Lellis warns us of the ultimate failure of melodrama to adequately mediate Andrea’s love story. Object of Her Affection opens on a “gruesome scene” of a woman in the “prime of her life, dying—splat—on the sidewalk.” A puppet of Andrea, sprawled on the concrete, tells us: “I’ve heard some people say that it’s better to have lost in love. But some of us are just lost… And some of us are losers.” The dying Andrea announces that it is better to have loved and lost, than to stop the whole business and have no more melodramas. However, she also warns us that sometimes such loss is not luminous. Loss might not have that patina of dignity that melodrama supplies to suffering. Perhaps it just means you’re a loser.
De Lellis’s witty deflation of the love story is wonderfully comedic. They do not miss an opportunity to make object-related puns or sexual innuendo—“[he] pleaded with me to elevator all the way up to his top floor, just so I could go down on him.” However, the sophistication in De Lellis’s story telling comes from their ability to highlight the absurdity of the tropes within stories of normative sexual development: Andrea has an innocent sexual awakening with her Blankey; falls for the “bad boy” Marlin, her grandfather’s hunting rifle; develops a celebrity crush on the Berlin Wall; has a threesome with the Twin Towers; dates the emotionally unavailable Statue of Liberty; and finally settles for Roy, a condemned apartment building. There is a well-worn path on which all such love affairs would be legitimized if they led to monogamous companionship. Andrea pursues each love with the hopes of arriving at the final destination, being a couple; however, such a destination is ultimately unavailable to her. “But, Libby,” Andrea laments to the Statue of Liberty, “we can never really have children together. I mean sure we could adopt a highway, but you’d never leave the island.”
Without a proper genre, Andrea’s story lacks sufficient articulation. Andrea’s profound non-belonging seeps through. De Lellis ultimately does not make a sentimental plea on Andrea’s behalf. Instead, we feel a haunting absence where a genre should be—a “not yet” set of conditions that would have allowed Andrea access to emotional participation in a collective fantasy, and a life that could have been lived among others (both people and things). As Andrea bleeds out onto the concrete, she asks: “Are we ever really in love? Any of us? Or is it just a made-up fairy tale in our heads that we project onto the objects of our desire?” We remember Andrea’s opening claim: maybe there is not much difference between having loved and lost and having never loved at all.
Marissa Fenley is a PhD candidate at University of Chicago.
Puppetry Journal: A Publication of the Puppeteers of America, Winter 2022, Vol 73. No. 1 – page 33