The Flick

Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama returns to New York with its original cast and creative team intact.

Aaron Clifton Moten, Matthew Maher, and Louisa Krause star in Annie Baker's The Flick at the Barrow Street Theatre.
Aaron Clifton Moten, Matthew Maher, and Louisa Krause star in Annie Baker's The Flick at the Barrow Street Theatre.
(© Joan Marcus)

Entering the Barrow Street Theatre is like stepping into a living mirror: rows of seats facing rows of seats. As we take ours (just a tad nicer than the ones directly across from us), we're suddenly transformed into a movie screen, the glimmering lights of a projector shining in our faces as a film runs its course. Eventually the lights come up and two guys in oversized polo shirts come in and start sweeping.

It's a thrilling moment, the first of many in Annie Baker's sensational Pulitzer winner The Flick, which has returned to New York in a commercial run following an acclaimed 2013 stint at the not-for-profit Playwrights Horizons. Reuniting the astonishing original cast of four with expert director Sam Gold and his visionary design team, this engagement is ideally suited for people who missed it the first time. But even if you've already experienced The Flick, see it again. And prepare to be even more blown away.

A slice-of-life story, The Flick looks at moments in the lives of three movie-theater attendants in Worcester County, Massachusetts in the summer of 2012. "The Flick," as the cinema is called, contains a single run-down screening room and one of the last remaining 35-millimeter projectors in circulation on the eve of the digital revolution. This is the drawing factor for Avery (Aaron Clifton Moten), a lonely college student whose only refuge from the hardships of the world is film. For his two coworkers, Sam (Matthew Maher), a 30something who never grew up, and the green-haired, hard-partying Rose (Louisa Krause), it's less a summer job and more a survival gig.

Over the course of three and a quarter hours, we learn snippets of what makes these people tick: Sam has an unrequited crush on Rose; Avery is paralyzed with fear at the prospect of making friends. Frames of their individual existences come into focus like lights on the silver screen. Along the way they sweep up popcorn, mop up soda, and quietly dream of a world where everything goes their way and they're not trapped for their entire lives cleaning up garbage.

What makes The Flick so extraordinary is the confluence of Baker's writing style and Gold's direction. Just as much of the dialogue is communicated through long periods of silence as through the seemingly meaningless conversations the characters have about film, life, and romance. These skilled performers are at their best when given the opportunity to embody their characters through simple gestures, like a pained expression on Krause's face or Maher's confused glances. They, along with Moten and fourth cast member Alex Hanna, communicate Baker's dialogue in a stunningly convincing manner. If you didn't know you were watching a play, you'd think you were actually a fly on the wall of this movie theater.

Gold's meticulous direction helps in that respect, simultaneously ever-present and yet entirely invisible in how natural it all feels. The work of the design team only adds to the extreme realism. David Zinn's dingy, dusty movie theater set is so true to reality that you can almost smell the popcorn popping in the lobby. His costumes, just-slightly-baggy polo shirts and kind-of-uncomfortable dress pants, could easily be worn as actual uniforms. Jane Cox's Henry Hewes Award-winning lighting and Bray Poor's convincing sound design enhance the piece, finding inventive surprises along the way.

Does The Flick occasionally feel too long? Yes. But the longueurs usually occur where they would take place in the real world, like during one of those horribly conversations where the person you love so much confesses that the feelings aren't reciprocal. As in life, time slows to a grinding halt when we contemplate what comes next. If theater, as Shakespeare once wrote for Prince Hamlet, holds a mirror up to nature, no contemporary work shows us our reflection in the looking glass better than The Flick.

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