Whether by choice or otherwise most of us have found ourselves seemingly stuck in an undesirable situation without the supposed means to escape. There’s a dangerous notion to which all of us are susceptible that suggests our self-imposed purgatories will come to an end “When the time is right”, placing the responsibility of our improvement on outside, uncontrollable factors rather than on ourselves. This dangerous thought oftentimes prevents us from reaching beyond our immediate circumstances, opting instead for the comfort of knowable stasis. It’s a routine. Routines are safe; routines are comforting. This is not to say that there’s no joy to be found in these holding patterns, yet isn’t the ultimate goal of purgatory to ascend beyond it?
The Flick is Annie Baker’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning play following three employees at the titular Flick, a poorly managed, one-screen movie theater that still uses a 35mm projector. Taking place entirely within the audience seating of the theater, the plot takes place mostly during the post show clean-ups week after week as the characters’ initially lighthearted banter gives way to their deep-rooted insecurities and fears in relation to their jobs and each other.
The small cast size of The Flick (four actors total of which one of them only appears briefly) plus the emphasis on casual banter that dominates much of the dialogue demands the characters’ chemistry to be on point. Particularly, the chemistry between Avery (Delanté G. Keys) and Sam (Shanon Weaver) as the new guy on the job and the veteran respectively is arguably the linchpin of the production, and thankfully Keys and Weaver excel in their interactions. From the first scene both Baker’s writing and Keys and Weaver’s acting made the seemingly simple acts of sweeping a movie theatre completely natural and believable. As someone who has worked multiple jobs in the service industry, it was astounding to me how accurate and reminiscent Keys and Weaver’s casual, workplace dialogue felt. Keys’ excitable, tightly wound nerves as the new guy in the presence of Weaver’s near-perpetual chill attitude recreated scenarios I’ve seen play out multiple times in the workplace. It was uncanny. The mix is only improved with the inclusion of Rose (Katie Kohler) as their coworker and projectionist. Kohler’s bold, blunt, and snarky attitude balances Keys and Weaver’s more reserved personae.
Of course, all three branch well beyond their initial roles as revelations about each of them are made clear to the audience, and tensions develop between them as they try to find some fulfillment in this purgatory in which they’ve found themselves. They define themselves for the audience quickly to break your expectations for them later on. Keys’ intentional and staccato speech, while at first seemed a touch off, paved the way for aspects of his character that define him as more than simply a 20-year-old nerdy film enthusiast. Kohler’s brassy, somewhat standoffish nature makes the moments in which she opens up (and those where she returns to form) all the more effective. Yet between the three I’d have to say Weaver gave the standout performance. Weaver was affable and approachable, yet filled every pause, silence, and glare with so much weight that he commanded my attention. Upon seeing him the first scene I assumed I had Weaver’s character all figured out, and to be fair some of my assumptions about him proved to be true, and yet in a cast of desperate characters waiting for life to get better he simultaneously felt like the most desperate yet accepting member of the trio. He was never threatening, but when he was upset in some capacity the emotion was palpable even in his silence. Furthermore, Sam, as a 35-year-old working a menial job, was the most intriguing and sympathetic character as he tried to find joy and entertainment in his holding pattern life while those around him continually improve. Ultimately all three were excellent, and I’m thoroughly impressed by the actors, director Ken Webster, and Baker that they were able to pull so much intrigue out of such a seemingly mundane scenario.
What intrigued me about The Flick from the moment I entered the theater was Webster’s decision to utilize the audience’s seats as the set (complete with the tech booth playing the role of the projectionist’s booth) as opposed to building a false movie theater set as other productions have done (the audience sitting on a raked platform onstage instead). It was a nice touch, though I can’t say how much my opinion of the choice has been altered by having attended other productions at the venue in the past. Or perhaps I’m looking into this too much. Regardless, the seating allowed ample space for the cast to move about freely while maintaining that desirable intimacy brought about by black box theaters (plus the rows of seats were perfect for hiding all sorts of props for Avery and Sam to find). The positioning of the audience also aided in the use of the projector as its soft whir and flickering light shone upon us as though we were within the screen, a subtle yet impactful effect. I will say the “prologue” of the projector shining in the dark was a tad overlong, but whether or not this was a directorial choice or a stage direction composed by Baker I cannot say. Either way, it was only a relatively insignificant bump in the road prior to a finely-crafted production filled with stellar performances.
It’s refreshing to see modern vernacular articulated convincingly onstage. The banter shared between the trio (again, particularly that between Sam and Avery) is entirely believable, as if it came straight from the workplace. I’ve met these people and have been in these conversations; these are the words of individuals who need any form of levity to distract them from the mundane scenario in which they find themselves. And yet, out of this routine comes a surprisingly intricate web of relations between three coworkers who can’t help but simply wait for life to get better. Expertly acted and directed, The Flick is a subtle and sublime production that will fill you with hope in the most unexpected manner.
The Flick continues playing at the Hyde Park Theatre every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8pm until August 6th.