‘The Flick’ is the reel thing


From the opening scene, connections – real, missed and misplaced are on the minds of the three principal characters in The Flick, Massachusetts playwright Annie Baker’s 2014 Pulitzer winning drama at Gloucester Stage now through Sept. 12.

As they do their post-movie “walk-through” to sweep up spilled popcorn and other trash in a run-down central Massachusetts movie theater, Sam (played by Nael Nacer) quizzes new employee Avery (Marc Pierre) in a game of “six degrees of separation” of movie actor trivia. Avery, a kind of movie savant, never fails to find the connections.

flick2Unfortunately, things don’t work nearly so well in real life for him, Sam or their coworker, projectionist Rose (Melissa Jesser). The three are underpaid employees of “The Flick,” where they laugh, fight and try to make sense of their lives as they mop the floors and tend to the theater’s 35-millimeter projector.

Avery is a movie snob, insisting that there have been no great American movies made in the 21st century. He also rails against the increasing digitization of the movie industry, maintaining that the only authentic way to show – or see – a movie is on 35-millimeter film. In fact, a big part of the reason that he wanted to work at The Flick was the fact that it is one of the last theaters in the state still showing movies on 35-millimeter in an increasingly digital world.

This search for authenticity extends to the lives of these three characters, all lost souls to one degree or another.

flick4Sam is 35 years old and has been working at the theater the longest. Rather than try to find a better job, he blames the theater owner for promoting Rose to projectionist before him. Sam overreacts to small slights, like a patron leaving a shoe behind in the theater for him to pick up – or Rose showing Avery how to run the projector instead of him.

Avery is the 20 year-old, depressed, emotionally detached son of a Clark University linguistics professor. He talks to his shrink on the phone during breaks at the theater.

Meanwhile, Rose hides her femininity and looks underneath baggy, unattractive clothes.

Despite the fact that these three workers essentially run the theater (the owner is never seen) they are barely paid minimum wage. So they rationalize a small grift they call “dinner money,” whereby they underreport ticket sales by about 10 percent and split the difference among them. At first, newbie Avery doesn’t want to buy into the scheme, a sort of latter-day Serpico. But Sam and Rose badger him until he agrees.

But then The Flick is sold to a theater chain planning to take it digital. Worse, the new manager figures out “dinner money” – threatening to upend the three character’s predictable if lackluster lives.

flick3Meanwhile, the connections between the three characters are unraveling under the strain of long hidden emotions. Even as Sam tearfully bares his soul to Rose, he can’t bring himself to look at her and see her as a real person and not some imagined ideal.

Courtney Nelson’s set perfectly captures look of a run-down old movie theater. The audience’s perspective is the opposite of any movie-going experience. We are the screen looking back at the theater and the action takes place in the seats.

Movie theaters are where people go to escape real life for a while. When the movie is over, they go back to their real lives. But for Sam, Avery and Rose, the movie theater is real life. Where do they go when it’s over?

The performances are top-notch across the board and Nacer’s facial expressions alone are worth the price of admission. The Flick is a funny, sad cry for connection and authenticity in a fast changing world.

The Flick runs through Sept. 12 at Gloucester Stage, 267 East Main St., Gloucester. Performances are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Purchase tickets online at gloucesterstage.com or phone 978-281-4433.

[The Flick, by Annie Baker. Directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary. Set design, Courtney Nelson. Costume Design, Lara Jardullo. Lighting Design, Russ Swift. Sound Design, David Remedios. Stage Manager, Marsha Smith. Featuring Melissa Jesser, Nael Nacer, Marc Pierre and James Weschler.]

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