The author of “Body Awareness” and “Circle Mirror Transformation,” Annie Baker is one of the new young women playwrights who are changing the face of theater. She has just won the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize given annually to women who write quality works in English and she is also the winner of the Horton Foote Legacy Project. As the winner, she will spend four weeks in that late, beloved playwright's restored home in Texas, presumably creating something inspiring and wonderful for the stage.
Her latest play is called “The Flick.” It is directed by Baker's favorite director, Sam Gold. “The Flick” is the name of the movie theater in Worcester County, Massachusetts where everything takes place. When the lights go on- there is no curtain- we are looking at a shabby movie theater designed by David Zinn, who also has done the Costumes. Full of old worn red seats that are facing us and a projection window high above, the large tan and red room has two fans twirling in the stained ceiling. A strobe kind of light, by Jane Cox, flashes either hot white or green. Lush soaring movie-type music divides the many scenes that take place over a span of three hours with one intermission. Although the story is meaningful and characters interesting, the deliberately slow pace with the long pauses the playwright has chosen to use is agonizing.
When the play opens, brooms and dust pans in hand, two men are cleaning the empty rows of popcorn and soda cans, the detritus of the last film shown. The older bald guy, 35 year old Sam, a part Matthew Maher invests with great authenticity and pent-up emotion, is teaching the new guy, Avery, the ropes. Aaron Clifton Moten shines studied brilliance on the part of Avery, a 20 year old African American college student. These two film geeks communicate through a game they play, where they name different actors and movies. When Avery tells Rose, the projectionist, that his father is a university professor of Linguistics, she admits she has no idea what he is talking about. And what an interesting character she is! As Rose, Louisa Krause, believable in her green-tinted hair and “butchy” demeanor, spends her time in her booth taunting Sam, who finally professes an illusory love for her.
The heart of the matter is an ethical question with a unique twist: Avery joins Sam and Rose in their scam to steal what they call “dinner money,” from their boss, only after they harass him. The new owner catches on and blames Avery, while his two compatriots, who had promised to protect him, leave him holding the bag. Rose's excuse is specious- he is wealthy; she is not. Sam says nothing; his silence is painful. In a final curtain speech responding to Sam's apology, Avery says that he will have to be more careful and trust no-one. He realizes that Sam will stay in this unrewarding job, while Avery will go on, maybe live in Paris.
“The Flick” takes a long time to say something very worthwhile. At Playwrights Horizons thru March 31.