In the era of the smartphone, everyone gets to be editors. We listened, we learned. We have internalized the Hollywood process. Tell your story on Facebook, but keep it brief, boost the highs, dramatize the lows, and for God’s sake don’t try our patience and dare to be average. All those boring parts in between, just leave them out. And if you’ve got nothing that fits the bill in your own mediocre life, well – you can go ahead and live vicariously with a sea of other Average Joes through shared memes and YouTube clips about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Annie Baker will have none of that with “The Flick,” the final production in Actors’ 37th season featuring Jake Mate as Sam, Noah King-Bates as Avery, Sydney Doornbos as Rose, and Jim Cantrell as Skylar/The Dreaming Man – characters representing fairly average folks working in a small Massachusetts movie theatre.
These lives are going to unfold for you in non-Hollywood time, trying your patience as no James Cameron film ever would (though Kubrick certainly did). It’s clear Baker is a big fan of cinema, for she gives our movie-minded brains other things to do in the extended minutes of the play – contemplating six degrees of Kevin Bacon, or guessing what film was that old theme song from anyway? But she’s not letting you off the hook with that time thing. She flips the auditorium into a face-off of stadium seating between theatre and movie house, and ruthlessly edits out the main action to leave you with what’s left.
So what is left, besides spilled popcorn and soda cups on the floor? Well, some interesting stuff really if given half the chance to tell its story. Lots of quiet layers going on here, and when a clear, concise, cause-effect storyline is absent it allows your mind to ponder those layers.
What brings each character to work in this old single-screen theatre, one of the last in the state that shows film on 35mm rather than converting to digital? Choice? Necessity? Emotional, economic, or other? Philosophical leanings? What is that strange thing that happens in a small workplace environment, especially when the boss is away? Camaraderie? Shared secrets and broken trust? Peer Pressure? Escape? Pecking order? Proximity affairs?
Humans. Through a flat, mediated framework we might just write off much as average and find the desperate need to manufacture that veneer of highs and lows. If, like appreciating good old film stock with all its dust specks, scratches, and deep saturation for what it is, we can explore a little more of the depth in the middle then we might just find something valuable there.
This is one of those plays, for a variety of reasons, that I want to see again before it closes. Some of it for the rich content, and some for the dynamics between actors. A play like this needs skilled actors to pull it off. This talented cast shows they are capable of it, and provide so many powerful little moments in the way they react to each other with a laugh, or a look, or a movement that’s just right.
They do an extraordinary job with very demanding material. At the same time, I think there might have been a few missed opportunities in the interactions on opening night that these actors will tighten up as the characters grow in each performance. I so want to see this play hit on all cylinders and I know all the ingredients are there for it.
Director Michelle Urbane fully embraces Baker’s intentions, standing firm and never giving in to follow a more standard storytelling formula. The set, lighting, and props (David Miller, Scenic Designer and Lighting Designer; Elizabeth Merriman, Properties Designer) work beautifully together to create the old movie theatre – from the flickering projector kicking out that unmistakable moving image; to the dim wall sconces and deep red rows of seats; to the rolling garbage bin and mop bucket; the attention to detail is commendable.
I only wish the hinged dustpans didn’t make so much noise against the floor, I sometimes missed a word or two in the scenes that included them. Costume design (Kelly Lucas) keeps the faith with digging deeper, not broader, for the story’s trajectory.
Give yourself time to not only go to this play, but allocate some time to sit and think about it in the days that follow. I’ll be rolling it around in my head until I return to see it again.
“The Flick” runs through May 26 at Spectrum Theatre. Ticket information at Actors’ Theatre.