‘The Flick’ is charged & funny but slick to a fault

Photo by David Cooper
Photo by David Cooper

I’m always excited to go see a play that wasn’t written 20+ years ago and The Flick, written by Annie Baker, just happens to be extremely fresh. It’s not that I don’t love plays of theatre past (I do), but there is something hopeful about seeing new drama. It’s a reminder that theatre is alive and well and young people might still care about it.

Kudos to the Arts Club for producing this play (along with other contemporary plays like Hand to God coming up in the Spring). It’s nice to see they’re choosing shows that the under 50 crowd can get enthusiastic about.

First produced in 2013, The Flick received the Obie Award for Playwriting and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2014. It has quickly become a new staple in American playwriting.

It takes place in a movie theatre in Worcester, Massachusetts (where? I had to google it) and follows three movie theatre employees who are just barely keeping their heads above water while they try and mask their dark insides.

Avery (played by Arts Club newbie Jesse Reid) is the newest employee at The Flick theatre and a complete movie fanatic (and maybe a bit of a snob about it too). He is taken under the wing of veteran employee Sam (played by Haig Sutherland) who really enjoys showing him the ropes (even though he acts cool about it) and has goals of one day running the projector.

Both are equally, however very differently, captivated by Rose (played by Shannon Chan-Kent), the bold and beautiful projectionist who heavy handedly prances around the theatre knowing that all eyes are on her.

They’re a strange crew united by fucking over the theatre owner Steve who is “a total douchebag” (and possibly a racist – we’re not sure) and because they don’t seem to have anyone else to turn to.

The dialogue is a snapshot of a new generation: short snippets of exchanges, accented with an overflow of emotional garble or strange hyperbole every now and then. If you’re looking for a lengthy and carefully crafted monologue, it won’t be as easy to find here as in plays of the 1950’s and 60’s.

The dialogue is key in this play. It’s wrought with colloquialisms and “likes”, with cut off lines written in to keep conversations sounding real. For the most part, the actors do a fine job of rattling off this dialogue while still annunciating like every good actor should. But there were moments where an added “like” just stuck out like a sore thumb and an exaggerated look to the audience felt invasive.

This is something I find with Arts Club productions: they are so slick, so well produced that sometimes they lose the realness of the situation, which, in a play like this, is absolutely key. The dialogue and the comedy is carefully crafted to sound familiar and ordinary so when it is hit so cleanly, it actually has the opposite effect.

Just as the dialogue is paramount in this play, the pauses are equally important. Much of the story is unsaid, but felt in long moments where all the actors do is sweep aisle to aisle.

There are some amusingly current lines in this play (“What’s the objection to Facebook? Actually. Never mind. I’m tired of hearing the objections to Facebook.”) and many moments where I was giggling at subtle looks and amped up pauses.

There’s a thread of mental health in this play, brought very into the limelight when young Avery confides that he tried to kill himself and sometimes, just can’t get out of bed due to his crippling depression. Wild and free Rose admits that when she has sexual fantasies, she’s usually thinking about herself.

Sam, 35 and still living with his parents, explodes when talking about his mentally handicapped brother’s wedding with, “Everyone is acting so happy. Like trying so hard. Like oh this whole fucking charade is so joyful. And it’s like the only actually happy people here are retarded!”

Reid’s Avery is the perpetual puppy dog and at times, his version of awkward was tiresome. But when he holds his own against Sam nearer to the end of the play, it seemed this was a directors choice, rather than lack of layers from the actor.

Sutherland has some nice moments as Sam and while it could be easy to play this character as the stereotypical guy in his 30’s that lives with his parents, there is a lightness and childlike joy to him that makes him loveable instead of pitied.

Chan-Kent steals the show, as she should, by really taking ownership of the space and the two other actors on stage. She doesn’t stick to the “sexy, cool girl” schtick and has some beautiful and subtle moments with both Sam and Avery. Much of her power over them comes from the fact that she spends much of her time up in the projection booth overlooking everything below.

The set, designed by Lauchlin Johnston, was perfectly simple, yet incredibly detailed. Down to the Blazing Saddles poster in the projection booth, it was exactly as it should be. While excessive black outs in a play drive me crazy (and this one has a lot), the music from Sound Designer Murray Price made these necessary moments pleasant.

The last thing I’ll say about this play is it’s an investment. Running at just under three hours, you leave the theatre really having been immersed in these characters lives. We really get to know them, in what feels like almost real time.

It was a strong choice on Baker’s part to create such a lengthy play for a generation who’s attention spans are drastically declining. But it also speaks to the strength of the writing; that one can leave feeling that they’ve been engrossed in a story rather than dragged along behind it.