By PAM HARBAUGH
Watching life flicker by while living on the periphery, emotionally isolated, is at the heart of “The Flick” — Annie Baker’s three-hour award winning drama now on stage in a faithful production at the Pugh Theater, the black box venue at Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando.
Ms. Baker’s play was birthed in 2013 at Playwrights Horizons in New York City. It won the 2013 Obie Award for Playwriting, and the following year, it won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It’s currently running Off-Broadway at the Barow Street Theater in New York City.
The play uses theatrical naturalism, rife with pauses (some pregnant, some bloated) to tell the sad stories of three lost souls destined to never connect with real life. Set in a grungy movie house in Massachusetts, employees Sam and Avery go about their jobs, sweeping up messes of popcorn, food wrappers, chocolate pudding and even an old tennis shoe. Up above, a window reveals the projector booth where we first see Rose, the projectionist.
A Samuel Beckett-like purgatory arises for both the characters and the audience. No sooner do Sam and Avery get the theater clean when lights go out and a stage hand sprinkles more detritus to be swept up. It is never ending. The constant cleaning of it all aggravates. Will he get that lone bit of popcorn left beneath a chair. Will the broom fall down again? Will the water bucket be pulled by gravity creating an unintended audience splash zone?
Indeed, there is a touch of the absurdist in “The Flick.” We wonder if the booth is some kind of god’s eye and the sweepers divine minions tidying up after humanity ridiculously represented by the distortion of Hollywood. Or perhaps this is what it is – a simple story about three people, all of whom prefer to watch stories outside of themselves rather than reflect on their own pains.
As produced by newly founded theater company, Gen Y Productions, director Kenny Howard stays true to Ms. Baker’s naturalistic intent. His cast serves him well. Unfortunately, rather than pulling us into the bleak reality, the slow pacing makes the end of the first act (90 minutes) seem like the end of an “experimental” one-act play.
No doubt, the inherent action is slight, having to do somewhat with money, love and change (35 mm to digital). The real movement is the characters’ interaction, which seems like nothing compared to the big stories projected on the screen. Rather than accelerating our emotional investment in the characters, the pauses distance us from them.
The highlight of the drama is a telephone call Avery (delicately portrayed by Marcellis Cutler) has alone on stage. We learn about his backstory and feel his despair when he says: “Maybe I’ll be that weird depressed guy and I should accept that. That’s the life I’ll live.”
The threat of change propels an agonizing confession of love by Sam (brought to poignant life by Daniel Cooksley). Aloofness becomes the way to cope for disconnected green-haired Rose (Jessica Hope in a smartly blossoming portrayal).
Humorous touches leaven the drama, including a recurring game of “Six Degrees” where Sam challenges film geek Avery to link Michael J. Fox to Britney Spears, or where Rose does a wicked seductive dance to throbbing hip hop music.
The three-hour length and naturalistic style of “The Flick” are not for everyone. Rather, this should be appealing for those wanting to dig into something with an intellectual appeal.
SIDE O’ GRITS: “The Flick” runs through July 12 at the Dr. Phillips Center, 445 S. Magnolia Ave., Orlando. Tickets start at $35. Call 844.513.2014 or visit DrPhillipsCenter.org.