Through Sun 3/26
Annie Baker, who deservedly won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for her play The Flick, was perceived by the awarding committee as one of “the most impressive dramatists of her generation.” They went on to say she, “writes with tenderness and keen insight.”
Baker is the author of such plays as Body Awareness and Circle Mirror Transformation, which won an Obie for Best New American Play and Performance, and The Aliens, which shared the 2010 Obie Award.
What makes Baker so exceptional? She has a knack for creating normal individuals who cope with everyday issues. She combines a depth of character development with people who speak simple and clear narrative lines with a kind of tender, off-the wall humor. Her writing forces the audience to think, while holding up a mirror to themselves.
Her play The Flick, which is now in production at Dobama, puts the spotlight on three movie employees in an outdated movie theatre in Worcester, Massachusetts in 2012. These are individuals who lead mundane lives. They do the same tedious things every day. They sell tickets, tend the box office, turn on the projector, sweep up the spilled popcorn and throw away empty candy boxes and soft drink cups. They talk to each other about their limited-opportunity lives.
We observe days that are the same, with some interruptions for a marriage in one employee’s family, underplayed conflicts over which is the best film ever, and trivia contests centering on how movie actors are connected through their appearances in various films with other actors as they play “Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon.”
There are no holdups, no catastrophic fires or accidents, no unexpected pregnancies, no fist fights, no hostage-taking episodes. The most “exciting” things that happens are how the three amigos steal a small amount of money each day from the sale of tickets to supplement their meager pay, and a funny scene about someone’s defecation in the men’s bathroom.
The question arises as to how the actions and conversations of Avery, a young college student who has lots of phobias and is taking a leave of absence from his college career to get his life back on track, Rose, who runs the film projector and may or may not be a lesbian, and Sam, a slow-moving, slow-thinking lifetime movie house employee, grab and hold and audience’s attention?
The effect of the show is in Baker’s writing. She takes the mundane and adds comedy and clear character development in an understated way. She gives us the privilege — yes, privilege — of sharing time with her perfectly etched characters. It’s like we have a camera on their lives and we are allowed to people watch and share their secrets, no matter how shallow their lives may be. What results is a tender drama which is funny, heartbreaking, caring and filled with long lasting memories.
The Dobama production, under the focused direction of Nathan Motta, is compelling. Motta knows and understands Baker, her writing and her characters. He has selected and honed a cast that make the script live and fulfills Baker’s intent and purpose.
Young Gordon Hinchen, a Tri-C student, is pitch-perfect as Avery, a film buff whose knowledge of cinema has depth well beyond his age. He is an African-American who is aware of the prejudices of the world around him, but isn’t a product of the ghetto. Hinchen creates a character with a soft underside, who is filled with angst, is tender and vulnerable. This is a masterful performance.
Christopher Bohan, complete with a perfect New England accent, wears his Red Sox cap as if it were a permanent part of his body. Already at a fairly young time in life, he has accepted that he is going nowhere on the ladder of life. As with Hinchen, Bohan is character perfect.
Paige Klopfenstein is yet another cast member who understands the role she is playing and creates a well-textured Rose who doesn’t have a plan for her life. She just lives life as it comes. Nate Miller does a nice job as the double-cast vagrant who falls asleep in the movie theatre and who later becomes an employee.
Scenic designer Jill Davis has set the play in a real old-time movie theater that doesn’t exist much anymore, a one-screen neighborhood entertainment center like the now destroyed Mayland, Richmond, and Center Mayfield cinemas. The back wall, hung with maroon material, evokes the walls of old. The seats of the set actually came from a now-defunct movie theatre. The projection booth, complete with a real reel-to-reel projector (found in the basement of the Cedar Lee Theatre) takes us back to the era before digital movies. Marcus Dana has designed a production-enhancing lighting design.
Praise to the backstage crew who scattered popcorn and refreshment containers during the blackouts to make sure the cast had lots of clean-up to do while they were saying their lines.
CAPSULE JUDGMENT: The Flick is a masterfully written, performed and produced play. It is dramatic theatre at its finest. With that said, there are some who go to the theater for action or slapstick comedy or intrigue. This script isn’t for them. But, for those who want to be drawn in by sheer spoken words and fine acting. This is an absolute MUST SEE.
The Flick runs through at Dobama Theatre. Call 216-932-3396 or dobama.org for tickets.
[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Theatre Critics Association, Cleveland Critics Circle]