In an association with Melbourne ensemble theatre company Red Stitch, Queensland Theatre presented Annie Baker’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, The Flick, at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre last week.
The play is set in a run-down movie theatre in Massachusetts (designed by Shaun Gurton) with the movie seats facing the audience, projector up the back, and the obligatory popcorn strewn across the floor, leading to much amusement as the co-workers of cinema, known as ‘The Flick’, spend much of their time sweeping up the mess left by the patrons after the movie, while they pontificate life, love, and celluloid film.
In a seemingly Waiting for Godot type of way- where the trivial is the topic of conversation and nights blend into days where nothing seems to happen, the characters carry on their monotonous daily routines of picking up popcorn, exchanging movie trivia, petty embezzling, and bitching about the boss, while sharing snippets of their lives with the sum of the parts creating the whole.
But unlike my dislike for Beckett and that particular play, The Flick is utterly watchable and fascinating, and the character lives are changed by the end of it. Director Nadia Tass has done an excellent job of combing through Annie Baker’s text to find every nuance and beat, creating a rhythmic rather than monotonous theatrical experience of the every day.
As the play opens, the newest staff member arrives for initiation into the world of ushering with the tools of the trade in hand – a broom and a dustpan. Film buff Avery has taken a break from college and chosen a low-end job at The Flick mainly because it is one of the last movie theatres in Massachusetts that projects 35mm film. A crusader for the tradition of movies and the celluloid experience, the awkwardly conservative, nerdy type suddenly becomes very impassioned at the mention of the words ‘digital transition’. His two co-workers are long-time employees cool chick Rose, who worked her way up the ranks from usher to projectionist, while 30-something Sam, the longest running employee just can’t understand why others get promoted above him. Although he can’t hold too much of a grudge with Rose. Why? Love… unrequited of course. Poor guy.
Kevin Hofbauer as Avery the cinefile is superb. His awkwardness is totally endearing and his physical embodiment of the character had you watching him like a road map to see how he felt and reacted to his fellow co-workers discourse.
Ngaire Dawn Fair brings a lightness and vibrancy as the free spirited Rose while Ben Prenergast is unpredictably vulnerable (although at times seemed a little over dramatic in his more angsty moments, but maybe that’s just my expectation of a stereotype that has been challenged)?
Queensland Theatre’s Artistic Director, Sam Strong draws a similarity in the program notes to the plays of Chekhov, using a ‘specific time and place… to explore universal aspects of the human condition’. Here the characters are so well drawn, you are fascinated by each seemingly mundane movement and spoken utterance.
It three hours (including interval), it is understandable that an audience member would walk into this production with trepidation, and although a prudent slice here and there would benefit, it is still an engaging play throughout.
An entirely satisfying play about the seemingly trivial things that weave together to create life’s big moments, The Flick will play at QPAC’s Cremorne Theatre till March 5.