Sunday, September 06, 2015

The Flick

Not much happens in The Flick, but you probably know that already. The play's languid running time -- three-and-a-half hours, with the fist act clocking in at almost two -- and liberal use of silence caused a minor stir when it premiered at Playwrights Horizons, in 2013. The controversy was such at PH's artistic director, Tim Sanford, took the somewhat unprecedented step of actually writing an open letter to the company's subscribers to explain why he programmed the play. When Annie Baker's play went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama the following year, the award was met by cheers from some and eye-rolls from others. That award -- and the growing interest in Baker's works, with include the currently-running John (Wendy's and my reviews here) -- prompted a commercial return of The Flick, which is currently playing at Barrow Street Theatre in the West Village until January 2016.

photo: Joan Marcus
Like most of Baker's plays, The Flick is set in a somewhat crumbling corner of New England -- in this case, a run-down single-screen movie theater in Worcester, Massachusetts. The theater's claim to fame, if it can be described as such, is the presence of one of the last 35mm projectors in the state. This is the express reason why Avery (Kyle Beltran), a 20 year old cinephile on leave from college, decides to work there. His colleagues include Sam (Matthew Maher), a 35-year-old lifer who seems to hide a wellspring of sadness under his Red Sox cap, and Rose (Nicole Rodenburg), a mysterious, sexually vivacious projectionist. Over the course of the play, we watch these three enact the mundane indignities of daily life, from sweeping popcorn to threading projectors, punctuated by a healthy amount of movie trivia and hard-won personal revelations.

The Flick is not as grand and philosophically concerned as John; nor is it as precise as Baker's 2009 breakthrough play, Circle Mirror Transformation. It does, however, feature her most astute characterizations of human life. The trio of movie theater works -- a fourth actor, Brian Miskell -- plays two small parts -- regularly find profundity in minutiae, whether or not they realize it. The acting is unbelievably good, especially considering that Beltran, Rodenburg, and Miskell are only in their first week of performances. (The peerless Maher has been involved since the Playwrights Horizons run). Beltran especially puts a quivering voice and tender, expressive face to good use in projecting both Avery's savant-like cinema knowledge and deep-seeded self-doubt.

The Flick won't be for everyone. Large swaths of the audience at the performance I attended fled at intermission; many of the audience members who stayed allowed their boredom to give way to boorish behavior. (I also witnessed this behavior at John, which is similarly lengthy). I question whether these attitudes towards Baker's plays have less to do with her content -- even though the plays are long, and slow, they are fairly conventional -- and more to do with her style. My suggestion is that if you go to see an Annie Baker play, give yourself over to the experience. You might end up beguiled.

[Rear orchestra]

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