BWW Review: Annie Baker's THE FLICK at Shotgun Players is Astute Observations of Three Lonely, Dysfunctional Theater Attendants
Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Jon Tracy
Scenic Designer Randy Wong-Westbrooke has transformed the Ashby Stage into an authentically detailed suburban movie theatre where the menial, routine tasks of three theater employees provide the space for an examination of the lives of people never really seen on stage or screen. With the audience playing the role of screen, The Flick plays out in a series of repetitive vignettes; the movie credits roll, the lights come on, and the theater is cleaned. Actors Chris Ginesi (Sam), Justin Howard (Avery) and Ari Rampy shine in the few moments of hyper-realistic ennui, that reminded me of a Seinfeld episode morphed with Richard Linklater's Slackers.
Baker has said she was exploring time and duration with The Flick, employing the 'action of silence' that seemed natural to the characters. Performing their 'walkthrough' of the theatre, picking up a smelly discarded shoe, cleaning up chocolate tapioca pudding spills and waking a sleeping patron (Rob Dario), all happen at a snail's pace. Minutes of sweeping popcorn off the floor and mopping the aisles. Silent looks at each other that enhance the awkwardness of the characters and their lack of social skills. Even the novelty of us observing what happens when the lights go on becomes overkill through repetition.
It's unfortunate, because The Flick could be a really solid one-act. There surely isn't enough dialogue or physical action to cover its almost three-hour running time, but compressed, it has merit and some fine writing. The story is simple - Sam and Rose are training newcomer Avery in the necessary tasks; box office, concessions and the walkthrough. Low-paid and hating their boss, the two have been stealing from the till and splitting the proceeds. They invite Avery to join in and though initially reticent, he agrees. Their 'friendships' are tested when Avery is caught by the new owner and fired.
Howard plays Avery as a bundle of repressed anger over his mother's affair and abandonment, wound tight as a watch spring and withdrawn. He's in love with film, especially 35mm which is rapidly being replaced in our digital universe. You get the feeling he's dying to connect but doesn't possess the skill.
Chris Ginesi's Sam is what we used to call a sad sack. He's 35, living at home and his only meaning comes from his job which he takes seriously. Wearing his Boston Red Sox hat and theatre uniform, he's unable to express his love for co-worker Rose and in his stunted, immature style tries to bond with Avery over a game of Kevin Bacon Six Degrees of Separation.
Ari Rampy's Rose is wild, energetic and a deeply troubled nymphomaniac. The theater's projectionist, she has a tempestuous relationship with Sam and comes on to Avery in a fantastically staged handjob scene. She's wild and passionate for a couple of months, then loses any interest and moves on.
All three are wounded souls, sleepwalking through their menial lives but just as complex as any Shakespearean tragic figure. There's some clever writing scattered over the piece: Avery asking Sam what he wants to do when he grows up, a fight over the merit of the movie Avatar, Avery's scatological phobia and Sam's heightened senses of smell. Avery's feeble attempt at suicide by swallowing pins, Sam sense of loneliness brought out by his 'retarded' brothers wedding and Rose's justification for their betrayal of Avery is all good stuff and the acting is authentic and simply superb.
Rose and Sam never do get together, his pride gets in his way. Avery moves on with his 35mm projector in hand, not before insulting Sam with the inevitability that Sam will always be just a theater attendant. Kudos to the set design, Kris Barrera's sound and video design and Kurt Landisman's lighting. The Flick has flickers of subtle, very observant life moments but suffers for its slow, infuriating pace.
The Flick continues through September 22, 2019 at Shotgun Players, 1901 Ashby Avenue, Berkeley, CA. Tickets available at www.shotgunplayers.org or by calling (510) 841-6500.
Photos by Ben Krantz Studio.