If you’re the kind of person who likes, say, the movies of Ozu, or Clerks-era Kevin Smith, then Annie Baker’s low-key, action-lite play will enthral.
Michael Bay or Marvel Universe fan? Maybe not so much.
Over the course of three hours (including interval), Baker’s script charts the evolving relationship triangle of three employees of a small town, single screen movie theatre.
Sam (Jeremy Waters) and Rose (Mia Lethbridge) are timeservers, with Rose having risen to the role of projectionist while Sam, to his chagrin, continues pretty much as he started – sweeping up popcorn (and whatever else people like to leave under their seats) and rinsing soda tap nozzles.
Then there’s the new kid, Avery (Justin Amankwah), a shy, film-obsessed college student from an academic family who appears to have never handled a broom in his life until now.
Thirty-something Sam is exasperated at first but soon comes to like Avery, whose phenomenal movie trivia knowledge and passion for film (James Cameron’s Avatar? Don’t get him started) proves entertaining if slightly less than infectious.
Rose – a lesbian according to Sam, who nurses a monster crush on her – likes Avery too. In fact, she seems quite mesmerised.
From these elements, Baker – the Chekhov of the minimum wage set – weaves a quietly gripping drama of stymied hopes, petty larceny, unrequited love and class tension.
Low-rise it may be but Baker’s pared-back, ultra-naturalistic style is demanding of actors. It needs to be inhabited rather than acted. A sharp ear for nuance and a knack for the timing of the play’s pregnant pauses and her characters’ occasional inarticulacy is essential.
Director Craig Baldwin’s cast prove pretty much flawless in that respect. Waters suspends Sam between resentment and resignation. His interactions with Avery are frequently hilarious (his trying to remember the name of that Christopher Nolan film while Avery smirks in amusement, being just one example).
Lethbridge’s Rose is physically vivacious, charmingly insensitive and winningly unpredictable. Her fumbling attempt to seduce Avery during an intimate, employee-only screening makes your toes curl.
But the revelation of the evening is stage debutant Justin Amankwah. His hushed, geeky and crushingly self-aware Avery is totally convincing from the moment he shuffles into the room.
Later, when we watch him, sitting alone talking to a friend on the phone (“Like maybe I’m just gonna be that weird depressed guy and I should just, like, accept it. And that’ll be the life I get”), he effortlessly conjures both sides of the conversation.
At the play’s climax, when Avery is hung out to dry by his colleagues, Amankwah makes his feelings of betrayal irradiate the room.
The Flick is as beautifully made as it is performed. Using the screen as the fourth wall, Hugh O’Connor’s set transports you to your favourite little movie house (and yes, that’s a real 35mm projector up in the box).
There’s also a great sense of the architecture beyond the exit door of the Flick auditorium, as actors unhurriedly traipse in and out and up to the booth.
You can almost smell the popcorn.
Martin Kinnane’s lighting and Nate Edmondson’s soundscape (which uses the clatter of a projector gate to amplify the intensity of the drama as it unfolds) is exemplary.
No doubt some will find this show too slow a burn. The Flick makes Remains of the Day look like Pacific Rim. But if you are captured by its rhythm, you’ll find it an absorbing exploration of friendship, and our need for dreams and the dark spaces we make for them.