As an undergraduate at Tufts University, I had the good fortune to see many art house films at a small theatre in Brookline, Massachusetts. Tickets were cheap and the films satisfied a university student with pretensions of being a worldly young sophisticate. It’s only now that I can appreciate the
Annie Baker’s play The Flick, directed by Rebecca Gibian, now playing at the Centaur brought me right back to the Coolidge Corner Theater. Three young film fanatics work as underpaid staff in one of the last cinemas to have an old projector in Brookfield, Massachusetts while others have converted digital. They find common ground in their love of movies as they sweep up popcorn and sell tickets as the ceiling literally falls in over their heads. However, their newly forged common friendship is threatened by external and internal forces.
The show opens with Sam (Andrew Cameron) showing the ropes to Avery (Jamal Azemar). Eager to please, Avery jumps on every suggestion Sam makes and dogs his steps desperately. We gradually learn that Avery is taking time off for his mental health from his undergraduate degree at the tony Clark University where his father works as a professor. Avery yearns to find a connection with others, though his refined taste and intelligence sets him apart from his current working conditions. In contrast, Sam, a working-class Red Sox fan, is in his mid-to-late 30s, living at home with his parents, and Labrador Retriever-affable. Sam, though, is conflicted because he has been passed over multiple times for a “promotion” to projectionist, but the job has gone to the girl he is hopelessly smitten with, Rose (Caitlyn Sponheimer). Rose is a relatively new graduate of Clark, deeply in debt from her degree, and without direction. While she seems out of it, she has an uncanny ability to see through the artifices others put up.
In a series of vignettes, the three banter in a manner reminiscent of Kevin Smith’s Clerks. They carry out the repetitious and mostly invisible work of caring for the theatre. But, like a fly on the curtain, we hear their conversations such as how they feel about the ins-and-outs of their jobs like what they think about outside food. They pass time by playing games and discuss everything, from the mundane features of the job, their absentee boss Steve, schemes to skim money off ticket sales, and their favourite films. In revealing their lives, they move from awkward colleagues to near-friends.
And while the three can come together in their love of film, love isn’t always enough. Their fledgling friendships that the audience is rooting for are threatened by their shifting alliances to one another, brought about as much by circumstance as by their personalities as the threat of the theatre being sold to a larger company. Though their issues are small, they make for a comedic, compelling tragedy that addresses how human nature and human relationships can come to a head in unsolvable ways. It’s a play that seems to suggest that who we are and where we come from matters and that the great moments of our lives happen in those rare moments when we are able to set aside our personal identity and find commonality… but that we can not do it indefinitely.
Persephone Productions does a wonderful job with the The Flick. The subtlety of the shifting relationships and the painful limits of loyalty and character come together in a satisfying way. It’s a play that depends on faith that less is more, the unhurried pace, the natural reactions of characters rather than over-emotional ones. The actors and director trust in this in a way to create a magical work.
The Flick is at the Centaur Theatre (453 St Francois Xavier) until June 11. Tickets and info HERE.