BWW Review: THE FLICK at Signature Theatre

I worked in a movie theatre in college for exactly one week before it shut down (not my fault, I swear). I tore ticket stubs, learned about the delayed gratification of an older popcorn machine and snuck in to see each of the two movies that were playing whenever I could. My friends loved the giant bags of popcorn I brought home, and I loved that it did not fall to me to clean whatever was left on the floors.

In THE FLICK, that job falls to Sam (EVAN CASEY) and newcomer Avery (THADDEUS MCCANTS) who are paid $8.25 an hour to clean whatever shows up on the floor of a single screen movie theatre that has yet to convert to digital projection. As they clean up old shoes, pudding and spilled sodas, we the audience get to see all of the facets of both working relationships and individual struggles.

Avery, a 20 year-old movie savant, is constantly crippled by anxiety and the belief that life is only worthwhile when watching a movie. He fights with family troubles and the idea that friends can exist, as well as a variety of neuroses that keep his expressions regularly fixed on terror. Sam, a 35 year-old who lives at home, projects strong ideals about movie theatre behavior, and works to interact with Avery as best he can to make the time go by. It's a relationship with a lot of potential, but, at its heart, this show is about every form of human nature, the good and the bad.

If you look at this production outside of actually seeing it, the concept can be hard to fathom. The runtime is 3 hours and twenty minutes, and the audience within the small black box theatre looks forward at a few rows of stadium seats and the projectionist booth higher above. It's a disconcerting angle, but then it needs to be in order to see all that is happening. I spent a few minutes wondering how often the actors end up with bruises while darting around the seats, but what truly works about this show is how it's staged and carried out.

Playwright Annie Baker has a very specific script. She builds in awkward pauses and the shuffling of feet, as well as the moment when Avery starts having the same sweeping rhythm as Sam during his training. Her characters, especially Rose the projectionist (LAURA C. HARRIS) exhibit basic behaviors that we've all seen or embodied, but in this case, they're all closed into a tiny movie theatre. The same staff members work together fairly constantly, so there's little room for escape from each other.

As indicated by the run time, the story is a slow build, but a truly effective one. By the end, there is a lot to think about, including if the end justifies the means, and whether, after certain interactions and heartbreak, you walk away as the person who you should be, or the person you need to be.

This cast and JOE CALARCO's direction, simply put, are spectacular. McCants as Avery stole my heart from the beginning as he crunched popcorn and worried about each trepidatious step. Casey transforms as Sam, constantly hunched over but somehow self-assured, walking the fine line between only exhibiting the bad but still carrying hope. Harris as Rose perfectly illustrates the girl you would typically want to avoid. She is brash, rarely truly apologetic and subtly dominating. Harris knows how to use a pause and slower speech, and makes it look effortless. This cast lets you see every part of the characters, making the resolution so very affecting.

If you're concerned about how long this will be, or whether or not you will like it, don't be. While I can easily see how this show could be dividing, it can also broaden perspective to far outside the walls of a small theatre. If you love movies, you'll hear the soundtracks of some of the greats. If you love theatre, you will see one of its finest examples at Signature with THE FLICK. Just make sure you don't bring in outside food or drinks.

THE FLICK has been extended through April 24th at Signature Theatre in Shirlington. For more information, visit the production page. Photo credit: Margot Schulman


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From This Author Heather Nadolny