Annie Baker’s ‘The Flick’ Opens Off Broadway: REVIEW
BY NAVEEN KUMAR
A lot of stories get told in movie theatres—but none quite like Annie Baker’s subtly artful behind-the-scenes drama about three employees at a run-down single screen movie house. The Flick, which opened Off Broadway Tuesday at Playwrights Horizons, attends to what happens between screenings when the illusion is over, lights come up—and somebody has to clean up the mess.
Directed with an appropriately ambling precision by Baker’s frequent collaborator Sam Gold (Uncle Vanya, The Aliens), the play is staged among about a dozen rows of movie theatre seats (a meticulously detailed set by David Zinn), so that the audience sits in place of the screen. Other than occasionally stumbling upon a particularly gnarly food spill, a majority of the action on stage consists of characters sweeping popcorn off the floor.
A seasoned employee of the Flick, Sam (Matthew Maher) shows young rookie Avery (Aaron Clifton Moten) the ropes on his first day. Sam is what you might call a lifer — 35, living in his parents’ attic, longing to be promoted into the projection room. A reserved, fastidious movie buff home on an extended break from college, Avery’s job at the plex seems temporary by design. Rose (Louisa Krause), a twenty-something with baggy clothes and dyed green hair, works the projector and completes what develops into a clumsy sort of love triangle.
A young, critically acclaimed playwright, Baker has become known for her intricate hand at crafting characters whose idiosyncrasies become one with their charm. Her work is in top form here, as her eloquent characterizations carefully emerge out of scenes of mostly mundane action. Just as the play’s scenes take place between movie screenings, much of Baker’s story lives in the silences between dialogue.
All three actors are exceptional, distilling their performances with equal parts humor and heart. In a play much about perception and people often overlooked, one moment characters may seem easy to peg and the next they surprise us with an unexpected personal insight. All three performers navigate this dynamic with a comfortable ease that’s a pleasure to watch.
Weighting silent moments with unspoken meaning is one of director Sam Gold’s greatest strengths, but it also contributes one of the production’s lone disabilities. Clocking in at just over three hours, it could certainly stand to be tightened. Even slight adjustments in pace would quicken the play’s momentum and bring it down to more reasonable length.
Spending three hours these days in a movie theatre isn’t uncommon — and The Flick is likely more interesting than most of the post-Oscar releases playing at a multiplex near you. And at least it comes with an intermission.
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Follow Naveen Kumar on Twitter: @Mr_NaveenKumar (photos: joan marcus)