Take the time to get inside Baker’s ‘The Flick’
GLOUCESTER – Change is hard, especially if you inhabit a small world, a world that can be turned upside down in a moment’s notice.
Perhaps your name is Sam; you are 35 years old and the highest rung on the ladder of life you’ve reached is sweeping the floors of a decrepit old single-screen movie theater in Worcester, and breaking in various “rookies” new to the job.
Throw in the fact that the very existence of the theater is in question because of changing technology.
Sam is one of three outsiders working in that theater in the Gloucester Stage Company’s production of Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Flick.”
The cast is led by the estimable Nael Nacer – who’s performed a cadre of vastly different roles in Greater Boston theaters in the past few years, from Chico Marx in “Animal Crackers” to a troubled choirmaster in “Our Town” to a lonely salesperson in “Intimate Apparel” – and here he adds the role of Sam, the aforementioned theater worker, determined to be biggest fish in a very small pond.
“They call this the ‘walk-through,’” he says as he quickly, carefully moves broom and dustpan through the aisles of the theater, breaking in rookie worker Avery (Marc Pierre), before moving to the intricacies of the soda machine and making popcorn.
Rose (Melissa Jesser) is the projectionist, a job Sam aspires to and is constantly asking her to teach him.
Nacer sets the tone for the cast , and it is up to his younger castmates to meet his level, and they do.
Pierre as Avery, ultimately, is an outsider, and not just because he’s black. His father is a college professor at a well-regarded school – Clark University in Worcester – and he has a scholarship at the school. But he has issues – such as depression – and he’s socially awkward and a nebbish.
Jesser’s Rose is also young, earthy, friendly, but hasn’t had much luck in turning that into a meaningful relationship, and is also adrift when it comes to what she wants to do with her life.
As the characters go about their mundane tasks, the interaction among them is often sweet, funny, clunky, and heartbreaking.
Baker’s great and good humor comes from many directions: Sam’s cogent observations on the worst behaviors of the movie-going public, and the back-and-forth between he and Avery in their “Six Degrees of Separation” word game in which Sam shouts out two actors and Avery ‘s job is to connect them through actors they worked with. “Michael J. Fox and Britney Spears,” Sam shouts.
“The Flick” has the rhythm of perhaps that job you had during summer vacation, when the clock seemingly refused to move.
Baker reinforces this by how often the scenes will begin in the same fashion, with the workers mindlessly, numbingly going about their assigned tasks.
For Sam, unmarried and living with his parents, the theater is his home and his co-workers his family. So when a confidence made is betrayed or Rose decides to show Avery how to work the projector before Sam, it is a betrayal equivalent to the adultery of a spouse.
Director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary directs with the same eye for detail that playwright Baker, an Amherst native, shows in her writing.
Set designer Courtney Nelson’s rundown theater is vividly-detailed and constructed so the audience’s vantage point is from the front (screen) side of the theater, so we are observing the action in the seats, the lobby, and in the projectionist’s booth, high in the rear of the theater.
Lara Jardullo’s costumes are pitch perfect, starting with the matching company-issued polo shirts.
Russ Smith’s lighting and David Remedios’ sound – with its sweeping movie themes – work hand-in-hand to create the shared experience of the movie theater.
Baker will take her time getting to where she wants to go. At a time when 90-minute, one-act shows seem to be becoming the norm, the three-hour length of “The Flick” may cause you to pause.
Don’t let it. Take the time to let us get acquainted with Sam, Avery and Rose, or that someone who might have poured you that coffee this morning, or filled your car with gas this afternoon.
The Gloucester Stage Company production of Annie Baker’s “The Flick.” Directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary. At Gloucester Stage Company through Sept. 12. Set by Courtney Nelson. Lighting design by Russ Swift. Sound design by David Remedios Tickets: $28. 978-281-4433 http://www.gloucesterstage.com