BWW Review: Verge Theater's THE FLICK Best of 2018 to Date
At first blush, it would be easy to say that there's not much action packed into Annie Baker's The Flick - now onstage in a noteworthy production from Nashville's Verge Theater Company at Belmont's Black Box Theater - but that is, in fact, a pretty simplistic take on a story that is as complex and as diverting as real life itself. And just like life, Baker's Pulitzer Prize-winning script packs a whole lot of drama into its storyline, which is brought to life by a superb cast of actors under the direction of Jaclyn Jutting.
In fact, Jutting's direction seems near-perfect and her casting is impeccable. Nettie Kraft's set design is exquisitely conceived and realized, transforming the Black Box Theater into a down-at-heels movie house in Worcester, Mass., thanks to her impressive design aesthetic augmented by Paul Gatrell's evocative lighting, Kyle Odum's beautiful sound design, Alex Drinnen's understated yet stunning projections and Colleen Garatoni's pitch-perfect costume design.
Baker's beautifully written play and sharply delineated characters immediately whisk you away from the rigors of the real world in order to take you to a newly imagined dimension that will take your breath away while it transports you to a very specific time and place.
If you allow yourself to miss The Flick, you will regret it and with only one more weekend left in its two-weekend run (it picks back up June 14, 15 and 16, with curtain at 7:30 p.m. each night), you should have time to put it on your theater-going schedule. Make no mistake about it, The Flick is, to date, the best show of 2018 - and seriously what else should you expect from a play that was awarded the Pulitzer in 2014 and which features the nimble, focused direction of Jutting (someone all directors should aspire to be when they grow up) - and its impact is nothing short of amazing.
At the center of Baker's play are her three main characters: Avery (played with confidence by Gerold Oliver in his Verge Theater debut), Sam (Tony Nappo once again shows off his immense talent in a role that could have been written expressly for him) and Rose (the versatile Amanda Card adds another startling performance to her already burgeoning resume), who are low-paid employees of the movie theater that gives the play its title. Steadfastly refusing to make the changeover from celluloid to digital, the unseen owner of The Flick gives the people who work for him opportunities to engage in lively and challenging debates about art and its place in the cinema, while they exist in a world that seems hurtling at break-neck speed toward a future they seem ill-suited to comprehend.
As Avery, Sam and Rose get to know one another better and share unexpected, private moments that illuminate who they are and where they come from, the audience becomes caught up in the minutiae of their shared and disparate lives which seem filled with the mundane and, perhaps, the nonsensical. But Baker's deft handling of the lives of her characters, who seem so genuine as to be flesh and blood (particularly given the heartfelt and emotional performances of Jutting's estimable cast - which includes Joe Mobley, who makes the most of his relatively brief time onstage as Skylar in order to make an impression) and as real to you as anyone you know offstage, out in the world in which we all share space (and responsibility).
Baker's insightful dialogue ensures that Avery, Sam, Rose and Skylar sound like people you know, they talk about things you think about when you're alone in the darkness, and they are brought to life with skill and alacrity. There is nothing epoch-shattering or life-changing about what happens in front of you during a performance of The Flick, but there is abundant meaning to be found in every word uttered during the dramatic arc of its tale. There is nothing not to like about the two-and-a-half hours you spend at The Flick, except maybe for the craving for buttered popcorn you'll have as you exit the theater to return to your own offstage existence.
Jutting's deft direction of her actors and her understanding of the challenges encountered by their characters (perhaps considered misfits in comparison to some sort of societal archetypes, but who find themselves when they are all together) gives the play a perhaps unexpected emotional heft that makes up for any lack of theatrical wizardry that would, upon close consideration, detract from their basic humanity.
The Flick. By Annie Baker. Directed by Jaclyn Jutting. Presented by Verge Theater Company at Belmont's Black Box Theatre, Nashville. June 1, 2, 3, 14, 15 and 16. For further details, go to www.vergetheaterco.org. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes (with one 15-minute intermission).
photos by Eric Ventress