Annie Baker's 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner, The Flick, is a small play that tackles big, philosophical ideas. Promethean Theatre Com- pany recently presented it at the Lagniappe Stage at Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts.
The quiet, understated drama tracks the relationships among three low-wage staffers who maintain a shabby, single-screen, 35mm movie house doomed by the rise of digital technology. The drama features four characters on one set with a few, simple props: popcorn bags, soda cups, brooms and a mop.
Avery (Khiry Armstead), a college dropout, is learning his new cleanup job under the tutelage of Sam (Stephen Foley), who has logged too many hours sweeping the theater. Sam is frustrated, believing he should be promoted and because of his unrequited interest in Rose (Susan Lanigan), the regular projectionist. Rose is manipulative and plays mind games with the two men, setting them up and knocking them down.
The genius of the play is in realistic dialogue that captures the staff's daily interactions, revealing their personalities and evolving relationships. Very little changes from day to day except the films being shown, which are identified by classic movie scores. Imaginary audiences come and go, leaving empty packages and popcorn kernels to be swept up, but petty human dramas remain within the daily routine.
The Flick is about any entry-level job, but also about human nature. Beneath the monotonous routine are age-old philosophical questions. The play's seemingly simple plot recalls Jean-Paul Sartre's classic existential drama No Exit, wherein three markedly different individuals are confined together for eternity.
Avery and Sam are an odd couple, with different motives for taking the job. The more intellectual Avery is passionate about 35mm film. Watching classic films frees him from the doldrums. Sam is in his thirties, considers Avatar a great movie and aspires to little more than working in the projection room. The two men pass the time playing a "six degrees of separation" game, connecting screen stars and challenging each other's knowledge of movie trivia.
Avery succumbs to peer pressure — going along to get along — and agrees to skim off the top of ticket sales, in violation of his own ethical code. His insecurities initially manifest in blank stares and halting speech, but over time, he becomes more outspoken, particularly regarding the sacredness of film. Along with Derrick Toups (Skylar/The Dreaming Man), all four actors convey an easy familiarity that is both believable and entertaining.
The simple set, designed by Los Angeles-based Lex Gernon, turns the action around, putting the audience in the position of the movie screen and the rows of seats at the forefront. This configuration allows the actors to move around, sweep and interact naturally while exchanging confidences. The projection booth above appears bright and exciting — the place where dreams are made. Stephen M. Eckert's skillful direction yields credible characterizations and purposeful onstage movement.
The Flick was an unassuming but excellently directed and acted play worthy of discussion and introspection.