Annie Baker’s Pulitzer winner—a magical mingling of Pinter pauses, Ibsenesque naturalism, and flashes of Pirandello—causes me cognitive dissonance. Written about the Twitter Generation, though with a run time exceeding two and a half hours, The Flick proves an imperative piece of modern American theater. Brevity is not one of its selling points, but the script takes chances that this New Century Theatre Company production, directed by MJ Sieber, does finally redeem.
Working in a dilapidated old single-screen movie theater, ushers Sam (Sam Hagen) and Avery (Tyler Trerise) and projectionist Rose (Emily Chisholm) discuss film, the transition from 35 millimeter to digital, and life in general. The three both crave authenticity and confront their full-of-shit contradictions. (The latter prove more entertaining than the former.)
On the stage facing us are rows of empty movie-theater seats where the play’s action—and inaction—occurs. As Sam and Avery clean up the mess left by filmgoers, their work is punctuated by an abundance of silences that are both irksome and utterly slice-of-life. Sometimes they talk, sometimes they just quietly do their job. A millennial David Mamet, Baker captures, like, the speech patterns of Generations X and Y, and keenly conveys the universal experiences—and rants—of peons in the service industry.
Even during moments of uncomfortable quiet, oozing with subtext, this cast elicits empathy. Hagen’s Sam, too old for his menial job at 35, inspires compassion upon declaring “I am that douche” (while comically confessing his double standard about bringing food into the theater). Chisholm’s green-haired nonconformist is all too human as she clumsily dances to seduce the pitifully passive and anxiety-laden Avery.
Like Rent, The Flick will not resonate with everyone. It’s a generational statement of sorts, in which Baker beautifully depicts the human condition through her trio of underachievers. Though a test of patience, the play is worthwhile for both ardent theater lovers and those theater-averse members of Generation Me, who so seldom find themselves represented onstage.
And about that stage: Andrea Bush’s set achieves an engulfing, painstakingly detailed, mise-en-scene effect. We enter what seems a real cinema, complete with posters and popcorn on the floor, and the sound design (by Rob Witmer and Evan Mosher) incorporates trailers from Jaws, American Graffiti, and other movies cited. We in our seats stare at the three discontented souls in theirs. Instead of a movie screen between us, there’s a mirror.
THE FLICK 12th Avenue Arts, 1620 12th Ave., wearenctc.org. $15–$35. 8 p.m. Thurs.–Sat., 7 p.m. Sun. Ends April 4.