Annie Baker’s ‘The Flick’: Playwrights Horizons premieres Baker’s latest play about movies, love and complication

Louisa Krause and Aaron Clifton Moten watch a movie

Louisa Krause and Aaron Clifton Moten watch a movie

Annie Baker’s The Flick is sort of about movies. But the action is about three movie theater employees who clean grungy aisles, relate to each other and care for one of the last 35 millimeter projectors in the state. Baker’s wry attention to detail, nuance and the complicatedly real creates a hilarious and heartbreaking play. The Flick is “good but long” as one audience member remarked. At three hours the play is definitely long and often too quiet. But underneath director Sam Gold’s commitment to silence, Baker’s language speaks volumes.

The Flick is a new take on an old theme. Progress is on the march and theaters throughout the country are switching to digital projectors. The young and complicated Avery (Aaron Clifton Moten, A Streetcar Named Desire) takes a cleaning job at The Flick because it allows him to work in one of the last theaters in Massachusetts that still uses film. His dedication to the art form runs deep and his character provides a wealth of film trivia (and a rousing rendition of one film’s famous soliloquy). Avery’s supervisor is a thirty-something lisping failure named Sam (Matthew Maher, Golden Child) who delivers some of the funniest moments of the play. Despite The Flick’s glacially slow pace the regular moments of hilarity are infectious and absolutely true.

Sam and Avery’s relationship could follow the predictable path of mentor and student but Baker complicates the plot with Rose (Louisa Krause, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer), a gothic, sexually-ambiguous projectionist with amazingly green-bleached hair. Her tired and then frenzied performance (especially her funky after-hours dance) made her an audience favorite. The minor character Skylar/The Dreaming Man (Alex Hanna) makes a fine debut but his character ultimately proves unnecessary to the plot.

Due to Gold’s intentionally slow pacing the play takes its time to get going. Some may say this is an artistic choice but my contention is that “artistic choices” should always help the play along. Unfortunately the extended moments of silence merely encouraged the audience to reread their programs. The play also suffers, forgivably, from a series of short sitcom-style scenes at the beginning. Not only are constant transitions a problem for the audience but playwrights shine best when confronting the challenge of a long scene. Baker proves this admirably in her longer moments. Her handling of natural dialogue is still bar-none and reflects all of her characters’ angst, as in the lines, “There’s something wrong with me,” “No, there’s something wrong with me.”

The set is a fully realized movie theater whose dingy seats face the audience, complete with busted ceiling tiles and working fans. The lighting is haunting and effective throughout and the incorporation of an actual projector is almost magical. In a nice show of restraint for Playwrights Horizons the set does not constantly move about or transform. The play is refreshingly about the play. Unfortunately Baker lets the air out of the final moments by failing to resolve the conflict of friendship between the characters. The conflict is unsolved and Avery’s character (the protagonist) has no chance to change. It is a slight disappointment that the play cannot find its ending but the ride is still worth it.

Because the play punts on its resolution the main reason to see The Flick is for its genius revelation of character. The play is really about what The Flick’s employees do when no one is looking. What they do is touching, funny, strange and sad. They love movies and each other and Baker clearly loves her characters. She pushes past clichés (the smart kid, the freak, the funny guy) to investigate the truth of what it means to be in love with friends, a girl, films and even yourself. It is a truth well worth three hours and one that eclipses any movie I could have seen.

The world premiere of The Flick written by Annie Baker and directed by Sam Gold plays at Playwrights Horizons and [this just in!] is extended to April 7, 2013.

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5 Responses

  1. Gotcha! I am so sorry. I have corrected the story and apologize for the mistake. Hey, if you’re willing, send us an email about the next show you’re in. We’d like to stay in the know.

  2. The Alex Hanna? Thanks for reading! I am looking forward to where you go from here.

  3. My name is Alex Hanna.