'The Flick': Annie Baker's Off-Broadway Play Is Slow But Funny
NEW YORK -- If you're getting repeatedly passed over for promotion in a tedious job by younger co-workers, you'll find a lot to relate to in Annie Baker's latest play, "The Flick."
That sentiment is shared more frankly by an under-achieving character in Obie Award-winning playwright Baker's touching new comedy about friendship, morality, and loyalty. The world premiere opened Tuesday night off-Broadway, in a sometimes slow but very funny presentation by Playwrights Horizons, directed by Sam Gold.
Three relatively youthful, low-paid employees work together in a rundown movie theater in Massachusetts that still shows 35-millimeter movies on film. Everyday jealousies, disappointments and anger share the stage with jokes, chit-chat, occasional poignant revelations and a lot of workplace tedium.
Old-timer Sam, (a hilarious and affecting performance by Matthew Maher) is in his 30s and still living with his parents. He shows the theater-cleaning process to a newbie, Avery, well-portrayed as serious and dorky by Aaron Clifton Moten. Wearing owlish, black-rimmed glasses, Avery's a low-key, egghead-type student on hiatus from college who happens to be a prodigious film buff.
Above them, handling the coveted job of projectionist in a glass-windowed booth, we see glimpses of green-haired Rose. A recent college graduate that everyone seems to find attractive despite her baggy clothes, Rose is given an air of beguiling crankiness by Lousa Krause. With Baker's gift for realistic-sounding dialogue and quiet irony, this group is recognizable as average young people who each have very specific, appealing quirks and issues.
The theater audience, which is located behind the theoretical movie screen, faces ten or so rows of empty, faded, red-velvet-covered seats. While picking up trash between movies and cleaning the floor, over and over, Sam and Avery make small talk and play six-degrees-of-movie-separation, connecting one actor to another through a series of co-stars.
Maher's physical comedy invigorates every scene he's in. Although on the surface Sam seems to be a bit of a slow-witted, boyish man with a weird sense of humor, Maher creates a comical, multi-dimensional and realistic persona for him. Reacting to events by freezing up with expressive body language and hooded stare, he causes eruptions of audience laughter without saying a word.
When Rose unexpectedly expresses interest in hanging out with Avery, secretly lovelorn Sam begins a slow simmer of jealousy. Krause contorts herself to hilarious effect when Rose flirts awkwardly with Avery in an impromptu hip-hop performance. Eventually, there are confessions and confrontations and later, Avery's belief in the best in people is shaken by a workplace crisis involving new management.
Gold, who just directed "Picnic" on Broadway, has received Obie (and other) awards for directing two of Baker's previous plays, "Circle Mirror Transformation" and "The Aliens." While he gets engaging performances here from all three actors, the action is stretched out way too long and the play sags in several silent scenes. The tedious, repetitive nature of these low-paying jobs could be conveyed onstage more concisely, with less unnecessarily prolonged silences or extended epilogue music from films.
David Zinn's set is perfectly designed, down to the water stains on the ceiling and the useless, slowly revolving ceiling fans. It would just be nice if the overly bright light being used as the projector wasn't aimed straight into the eyes of the audience for several minutes at a time; it made some of us as cranky as Rose.
Shirley MacLaine experienced her big Broadway break as an <a href="http://aea100.org/narrative-project/shirley-maclaine-understudy-legend">understudy to actress Carol Haney in 1954 production of "The Pajama Game."</a> Thanks to Haney's sprained ankle, MacLaine was seen by Paramount producer Hal Wallis, and so her silver screen career began. IMAGE: Actress Shirley MacLaine speaks onstage at the Masterpiece Classic 'Downton Abbey, Season 3' panel during day 1 of the PBS portion of the 2012 Summer TCA Tour held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 21, 2012 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
Before he became famous for roles like Hannibal Lecter and Alfred Hitchcock, <a href="when Olivier was struck with appendicitis during a production of August Strindberg's The Dance of Death">Anthony Hopkins was an understudy to the great Sir Laurence Olivier</a>. Hopkins had his break in 1965 when Olivier was struck with appendicitis during a production of August Strindberg's "The Dance of Death." Hopkins stepped in and the rest is history. IMAGE: Sir Anthony Hopkins at the Premiere of Hitchcock at BFI Southbank, London.
At the tender age of 13, famous songstress <a href="http://www.kansas.com/2012/08/16/2452957/bernadette-peters-will-bring-broadway.html">Bernadette Peters was an understudy for "Dainty June" in the second national tour of "Gypsy" (1961).</a> Since then, Peters has been nominated for seven Tony awards. IMAGE: Bernadette Peters attends the 66th Annual Tony Awards at The Beacon Theatre on June 10, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images)
Taye Diggs began his professional career as an <a href="http://www.backstage.com/news/from-standby-to-stardom-9-famous-actors-who-started-on-the-sidelines/">understudy for the role of Jigger Craigin in the 1994 Broadway revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Carousel.”</a> Diggs would go on to star in the Tony-award winning production of "Rent" two years later. IMAGE: Actor Taye Diggs attends The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Presents 'Welcome To ShondaLand: An Evening With Shonda Rhimes & Friends' at the Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre on April 2, 2012 in North Hollywood, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
In 2002, Glee star Matthew Morrison was but a humble <a href="http://www.playbill.com/news/article/69358-Carpinello-Drops-Out-of-Hairspray-Understudy-Morrison-Is-Link">understudy for the character of Chuck in Broadway's "Footloose."</a> Though he never saw the stage for that production, Morrison got his break when James Carpinello dropped out of "Hairspray" for a film role that same year. The role of Link Larkin was all his. IMAGE: US actor Matthew Morrison poses for photographers on the red carpet ahead of the world premiere of 'Les Miserables' in central London on December 5, 2012. (LEON NEAL/AFP/Getty Images)
Fellow Glee-alum Lea Michelle has similar Broadway origins. In 2005, she <a href="http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=70191">understudied the role of Chava in the 2003 production of “Fiddler on the Roof."</a> She ended up playing the character of Shprintze in the same musical and didn't see her big break until the 2006 staging of “Spring Awakening." IMAGE: Actress Lea Michele arrives at the Hollywood Foreign Press Association's and In Style's celebration of the 2013 Golden Globes Awards Season at Cecconi's on November 29, 2012 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
John C. McGinley
Famous for playing the resident curmudgeon of the television series "Scrubs," John C. McGinley had his break break while <a href="http://movies.yahoo.com/person/john-c-mcginley/biography.html">serving as understudy to John Turturro in the Circle-in-the-Square production of John Patrick Shanley's "Danny and the Deep Blue Sea."</a> A casting agent for writer-director Oliver Stone happened to see one of McGinley's performances and recruited him in to read for Stone's next film project, "Platoon." IMAGE: Actor John C. McGinley arrives at Paramount Vantage's Los Angeles premiere of 'Revolutionary Road' held at Mann Village Theater on December 15, 2008 in Westwood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Today, Bebe Neuwirth is a Broadway icon by all accounts. Who could forget her role as the darkly beautiful Morticia Addams in "The Addams Family" musical? But in 1975, she was just an <a href="http://www.playbillvault.com/Person/Detail/38557/Bebe-Neuwirth">understudy for the role of Cassie in "Chorus Line."</a> IMAGE: Actress Bebe Neuwirth attends the Vivienne Tam Spring 2013 fashion show during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at The Stage at Lincoln Center on September 12, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week)
Broadway starlet Sutton Foster was once cast as the <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2012/jun/17/entertainment/la-et-sutton-foster29-2010apr29">understudy to the lead in "Thoroughly Modern Millie" at the La Jolla Playhouse in 2002.</a> When the primary actress fell ill, Foster stepped up only to win a Tony for her impromptu performance. IMAGE: Actress Sutton Foster attends the 2012 ABC Family Upfront at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on March 19, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)
Cheyenne Jackson was originally hired as an <a href="http://www.playbill.com/news/article/89301-Cheyenne-Jackson-Dons-Leather-Jacket-to-Star-in-All-Shook-Up-Replacing-Jarrod-Emick">understudy for the role of bad-boy singer Chad in the 2004 staging of "All Shook Up."</a> When contract negotiations fell through with actor Jarrod Emick, Jackson was asked to take up the starring role. He would later showcase his impressive chops on 30 Rock as well. IMAGE: This Nov. 19, 2012 photo released by Starpix shows actor Cheyenne Jackson at the 40th International Emmy Awards in New York. (AP Photo/Starpix, Andrew Toth)