“The Flick” at Shotgun Players

“The Flick” at Shotgun Players

Carol Benet

Annie Baker’s “The Flick” at Shotgun Players is a masterpiece.  A play about three workers at a local movie house, soon to be bought out by a big chain, this is the kind of small town subject at which Baker excels.

Her “The Aliens” was seen in 2014 at SF Playhouse and it also concerns three locals who sit in a backyard behind a coffeehouse in a small Vermont town and all they do is talk about life —their life.  What should be boring in both plays, just ordinary young people talking, with many long pauses, about their lives and limited experiences carry a certain fascination that is hard to explain.

“The Flick” is brilliantly set (Randy Wong-Westbrooke) in a small run-down theater with four rows of red seats, some of them stained, facing the audience. During the entire 3 hour play Sam (Chris Ginesi) and Avery (Justin Howard) are sweeping and mopping up the floor underneath and behind the seats after performances.  Other than scenes coming from the projection room above with the projectionist Rose (Ari Rampy) performing her duties with a dated camera and other than the noise of the characters walking or running upstairs, there is little action.  

Rose’s wild rock dance in the aisles is a movement highlight when she is trying to engage an otherwise passive Avery into a love affair while Sam goes to the wedding of his retarded brother.   Sam is crazy in love with her and first falsely states she is a lesbian.  She is simply not interested in him at all but she takes to Avery (Justin Howard), a shy, inarticulate young man who has many psychological problems.  Avery has just started working there because he is obsessed by movies, particularly those predating the digital craze.  This old theater has a store of the old movies upstairs in the projection room.

Avery is a movie wizard.  He and Sam play a game during their sweeping/mopping duties where they (mostly Avery) figure out the relationship of two disparate actors by going through 6 degrees of separation.  Like a human computer, Avery can always figure it out, much to Sam’s astonishment.  Music from old movies punctuate the short sections of the play separating different post-showing episodes with more sweeping/mopping and hesitant and pause filled dialogues.

When when Sam is away Rose takes makes a move on Avery and he finds out she is not a lesbian at all.  Ironically, the  tongue-tied Avery’s father is a professor of Linguistics and Semiotics and has a free-ride to college, but he is in a psychological turmoil with many phobias.  In a long telephone talk with his therapist, the audience learns more about his problems. 

The play goes on like this, with little movement or plot development but for some reason it is absolutely intriguing. Baker’s technique is to use silences and pauses to great effect in which the audience becomes so tense in anticipation of the next line that is becomes a form of comedy  Sa’s passiveness and timing of lines are brilliant.  Avery’s insecurities and Rose’s exuberances are also wonderful.  

The tech team with Hikki Anderson-Jay’s bland work-like costumes,  Kris Barrera’s sound and video design describing the theater and adding pop music and old movie music during interludes ,  Kurt Landisman’s lighting with its dinginess or flickering broken lights when necessary, and Devon LaBelle’s props – mainly popcorn strewn on the floor and brooms and mops, are  all perfect in this setting.  

Jon Tracy’s direction of this 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner for drama is faultless.  With few words and many pauses,  the timing has to be perfect — and it is. And like the plays of Samuel Beckett (“Waiting for Godot” or “Endgame”), not much happens but the existential meaning in the lives of these three young adults is the most important dramatic subject of all time.

“The Flick”  runs through September 22 at The Shotgun  Players in Berkeley at Ashby near Martin Luther King Boulevard and across from the Ashby Bart Station with plenty of parking.  Serious theater goers should not miss this production.  

shotgunplayers.org or 510 841 6500.  

About the Author

Carol BenetCarol Benet received her Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from the University of California, Berkeley, where she won an Outstanding Teaching Award. She also received a B.A. in English and an M.A. in French Language and Literature from the University of Michigan. Her teaching assignments have been at UC Berkeley, UC Berkeley Extension, Dominican University and Washington State University. Currently she holds literature discussion groups in Marin County and San Francisco and is a critic of the arts for The Ark Newspaper and a contributor to ARTSSF.com and ForAllEvents.com.View all posts by Carol Benet →