BWW Review: Dramatic Repertory Company Mounts Maine Premiere of THE FLICK
Portland's Dramatic Repertory Company chose the intimate black box environment of Portland Stage's Studio Theatre to present the Maine premiere of Annie Baker's Pulitzer Prize winning play, THE FLICK, in a production that is filled with dark humor, poignant moments, and almost excruciating intensity. THE FLICK, clocking in at three hours, ten minutes, is a work that requires patience and commitment to mine its many riveting theatrical moments, but if the audience invests itself in the conceit of real time and unvarnished dialogue, there are many rewards.
Baker's play takes place entirely within the confines of a run-down Massachusetts cinema in which three employees search for connection and communication as they try to navigate their way out of this Sartrean no exit experience. Yet, within this claustrophobic atmosphere, moments of revelation and grace occur among the characters, and there are instants where the work becomes a poetic paean to movies, art, and the imagination. Events occur in real time; dialogue is disarmingly natural and enveloped by great swaths of silence, and emotional intent builds ever so slowly through repetition and attention to mundane detail. Unlike most drama, there is no heightened reality, no truncation of happenings, no allowance for dramatic license. This is Baker's clearly stated intent and stage directions.
Despite this, there have been productions, which, depending on the size of the venue and the director's take, have reduced the length of the play and shortened much of the silent action, and, in truth, this critic would have preferred that approach at the Portland Stage venue, as the small space does only intensifies the stultifying repetition of the characters' daily routine. Instead, director Keith Powell Beyland opts to be faithful to the original pacing and concept, and within this choice, his staging is meticulous, detailed, and compelling, and the performances he draws from the cast are powerful.
Tsiambwom M. Akuchu makes a gentle, awkward, vulnerable Avery, whose neuroses are embodied with convincing physicality, and he delivers some heart wrenching moments as he opens up and unravels his pained history. Corey M. Gagne creates a Sam, whose very mediocrity contains a certain quiet dignity and pride, and as, an actor, he accomplishes the difficult task of creating "the ordinary guy" with total conviction and compassion. Casey Turner as Rose projects just the right blend of jadedness and yearning, seizing opportunities as they come and making self-survival a priority, though we see she, too, longs for more. Johnny Speckman rounds out the cast with a cameo as a sleepy movie patron and as the Avery's lackluster replacement in the final scene.
The physical production makes attractive use of the space. Dustin Tucker designs a set that is believably grungy and nondescript using several rows of movie seats, a dilapidated aisle, walls embellished with old movie posters, colored lights carelessly hung (until the last scene when the theatre has a new owner and these take on a tidier look), and a projection booth above from which the movies emanate. Michaela Wirth designs the lighting, alternating the cool, grey of the interior with the more magical darkness of the cinema intervals. Matt Kennedy does a fine job with sound, interspersing the scenes with old movie and music clips. Anna Halloran designs the understated costumes, which begin as dull work clothes that then transition to crisp white unform shirts at end.
With THE FLICK, DRC, one of Portland's many fearless and risk-taking companies, delivers an original and thought-provoking theatrical experience.
Photos courtesy DRC