BWW Review: New England Premiere of Annie Baker's THE FLICK at Company One Theatre
Written by Annie Baker, Directed by Shawn LaCount; Dramaturg, Jessie Baxter; Scenic Design, Cristina Todesco; Lighting Design, Jen Rock; Costume Design, Amanda Maciel Antunes; Sound Design, Edward Young; Props Master, Anita Shriver; Production Stage Manager, Keta Newborn; Assistant Stage Managers, Elena Livak & Ariel Welch
CAST: Alex Pollock, Peter Andersen, Brenna Fitzgerald, Steven Chueka
Performances through March 15 by Company One Theatre in collaboration with Suffolk University at The Modern Theatre, 525 Washington Street, Boston, MA; Box Office 1-800-440-7654 or www.companyone.org
Once you get beyond the weird sensation that the Suffolk University Modern Theatre stage is a mirror image of the audience, only with rows of empty theater seats facing out, and fall into step with the intentionally languid pacing of OBIE Award-winner Annie Baker's The Flick, it is possible that you will find yourself nodding in recognition of the unremarkable personalities that the playwright selects to tell their stories, as well as craving a bucket of popcorn. Two ushers and a projectionist at a rundown, second-run movie theater in Worcester may not seem all that interesting at first glance, but not only do we know these people, some of us actually are these people.
That seems to be a fact that Baker counts on when she chooses traits in creating her characters. What is more compelling than seeing ourselves on the stage, giving "star treatment" to ordinary people in routine circumstances? The drama - and the comedy - comes organically from living life, making mistakes, and, hopefully, learning to do it better or differently the next time. The existential struggles of 35-year old Sam (Alex Pollock), stuck in a dead-end job, highly anxious Clark University student and film nerd Avery (Peter Andersen), and the somewhat amoral Rose (Brenna Fitzgerald), who has only a passing familiarity with convention, drive the three-hour play. In The Flick, Baker is interested in who these people are, how they got that way, and what occurs when they bump up against each other, day in and day out. Not much happens, but everything changes.
Company One and Artistic Director Shawn LaCount have an affinity for Baker, having staged one of her three "Shirley, VT Plays" (The Aliens) in 2010 in collaboration with the Huntington Theatre Company and SpeakEasy Stage Company. LaCount directs the New England premiere of The Flick and has a keen sense of the rhythm and pacing necessary to communicate everything that Baker puts in the silences of her manuscript. He has gathered an ensemble that gets it, too; in fact, Pollock was also one of the three actors in The Aliens, for which he won an Elliot Norton Award. He seems to make a specialty out of playing characters who are anxious, heartbroken, or both. Sam sees it as his responsibility to take the new guy Avery under his wing and they start to bond over their shared love and knowledge of films. While sweeping up the never-ending supply of spilled popcorn between shows, they challenge each other playing a game of six degrees of movie star separation.
Avery is socially maladjusted and has issues which Andersen captures by appearing to be constantly uncomfortable in his own skin. He unwittingly creates conflict with Sam by disclosing a confidence to Rose and, when she offers to show Avery how to run the projector, Sam is miffed because he's asked her to teach him many times. It isn't entirely clear whether Rose is playing them against each other for kicks or flirts with Avery because that's the only way she relates to men in general. Fitzgerald conveys Rose's self-assurance, as well as her insecurity. For all her brazen attitude, she is simply trying to keep it together, one day at a time.
Baker borrows a conceit from Groundhog Day, the Bill Murray movie in which his character was forced to live the same day over and over until he got it right. Scene after scene, Sam and Avery are sweeping the popcorn and other assorted, disgusting items from the theater floor while muddling through their mundane lives. All three characters are beset with anxiety for different reasons, yet clumsily try to be there for each other. They make mistakes in their personal relationships, but only out of ineptitude, not malice.
In addition to her hallmark use of silences in her scripts, Baker has a flair for contemporary vernacular. When her characters speak, they don't always use complete sentences and they pepper their conversation with "like," in the way that actual people do. Everything about this production feels real, from Cristina Todesco's set, to Jen Rock's movie theater lighting, to Amanda Maciel Antunes' costumes, to Edward Young's sound design, and including the upright covered dust pans that Sam and Avery are equipped with by props master Anita Shriver. Pollock, Andersen, and Fitzgerald relate to each other in totally authentic ways, making your heart ache one minute and smile the next for this misfit trio. In the hands of Company One, The Flick is a very intimate experience on both sides of the fourth wall.
Photo credit: Liza Voll Photography