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A CurtainUp Review
Baker, whose other plays have also been lauded for their informally structured, protracted naturalistic style, may perhaps be demanding a lot, especially from one segment of the audience, with her new and exceedingly long and yet ultimately remarkable new play in which movie games replace theater games. The Flick has been afforded a cleverly designed (by David Zinn) production at Playwrights Horizons where the setting for all the action is the interior of a small neighborhood movie house in central Massachusetts. Our perspective of the stage from where the screen would be; in other words, we face the raked rows of seats and the back wall of the theater with a view into the tiny window of the projection booth.
Continuing her association with her director of choice and close collaborator Sam Gold, Baker is fortunate to have found someone who knows how to transfer what could appear as an exercise in excessive self-indulgence into a compelling theatrical experience. Whereas Circle Mirror Transformation took an hour and forty five minutes to complete its purposefully redundant dramatic convolutions, The Flick takes three full hours — or I should say three pause-saturated hours to wend its way to its conclusion. A poignant one! This play, much more so than did Circle Mirror Transformation, left me in a state of both sadness and elation? What's more, I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.
One has to see the ad copy and design on the playbill to see how the title is meant as a double entendre, and how it speaks reams to a turn of events that include the dissolution of a triangled relationship. While it's a play that might seem to be solely for and about movie lovers, it is essentially about consuming obsessions that fill up the lives of life's loners and the lonely. It will certainly resonate with those who can identify with Baker's own acknowledged love of movies as she was growing up. More significantly, it will impact anyone who's been motivated and driven by an obsession, or know someone who does. The four cast members (one is in a very small supporting role) are very fine actors and all appear to be on the same concerted wave length as Baker and Gold.
And speaking of length, a play, of course, is not defined by it, but it can be defined by the lengths to which a playwright goes to indulge a personal objective or mission. The abundant and extended pauses by the characters in this play make characters in any Pinter play by contrast seem as if they are on speed.
One thing that was apparent at the performance I attended was the preponderance of young people, almost all of whom appeared (as I looked around) rapt in their recognition of the precisely distilled interaction between the play's characters, low-paid employees. What was remarkable to witness was the willingness of a generation engaged in speedy if not instant visual and communicative gratification to plunge into Baker's signature world of people who articulate in halting, half-sentences and through the subtlest indications of body language.
We can see that Sam (Matthew Maher) enjoys his seniority. He is almost twice the age of Avery (Aaron Clifton Moten), the twenty-something African-American to whom he is showing the simple cleaning routine that they are to follow between showings and after the last patron has left. Their conversation amid the sweeping of the aisles and the collecting of trash is sparked when Sam realizes that Avery is as obsessed with movie trivia as he is, particularly of the parlor game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," that (without going into detail) is the ultimate test of one's knowledge of movies and the actors in them.
The less-educated Sam's has a wary regard for the brighter Avery, who has revealed he has taken a break from college for personal reasons. He shares with him his hope for a long overdue promotion at the movie house, possibly becoming a projectionist. This job, however, is currently filled by Rose (Louisa Krause), a not unattractive but sloppily attired twenty-something woman who has apparently been avoiding the love-sick Sam's overtures.
Rose's interest in the socially and emotionally remote Avery leads her to test him sexually while they are alone watching a film. Her lack of feelings for the increasingly jealous and resentful Sam reach a breaking point in a rather pathetic confrontation. The complex relationships begin to disintegrate when an on-going box-office scam to make a little extra money is discovered by the management, one in which Sam and Rose had pressured the reluctant Avery to become a party.
Maher is terrific as the pathetic Sam who may have to face a future that will never be as bright as the light from the projection booth. Krause impresses as the dour, emotionally wilted Rose who, nevertheless, makes an aggressive play for Avery with a bit of hip hop-ography. Moten is effective as the passive, introspective, most probably sexually-conflicted Avery. Alex Hanna is fine in two small roles in what is surely Baker's most deliberately demanding play yet. The Flick will undoubtedly appeal to adventurously receptive theater goers. But I suspect that it will flicker most brightly for cinephiles.
Links to Reviews of other Baker plays reviewed at Curtainup
Uncle Vanya Adaptation
Body Awareness/ Annie Baker
Circle Mirror Transformation
Slings & Arrows- view 1st episode free
Anything Goes Cast Recording
Our review of the show
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show