Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Flick

It's appearing at one of those minimal Off-Broadway theaters in the Village, this production of Annie Baker's The Flick, which won last year's Pulitzer Prize for drama. There has been a new cast taking over from the originals who started this second New York production, but this play proved its worth over the long run: three hours and ten minutes, that is.

Some have compared the pacing, with pauses and empty stage set, to Pinter but it struck me as the opposite of Mamet and La Bute, the two contemporary playwrights who specialize in crackling, staccato dialogue. Baker takes her time in enabling you to grasp where her characters are coming from. 

The three principals (there's a fourth performer who plays two small parts in fine fashion, too) are representative of young people stuck in dead-end jobs in a society and milieu that deny any chance, it would seem, to escape into any kind of satisfying work. Instead, they soldier on in a movie house in Worcester, Mass., with outdated technology and few prospects.

Gradually the characters interact on deeper and deeper levels, though this process is characterized by misunderstanding and the immediate realization that nothing will turn out right. Overlaying this is the small talk and the banter of any workplace, especially one where there are those who are clearly heading toward a dead end and the others who are usually younger but retain the slim likelihood of escape, if not assured success.

Not many plays capture this scene effectively. One that I recall fondly was Arthur Miller's A Memory of Two Mondays, a marvelous chronicle of a young man spending a summer in an urban supply house, knowing that he will be leaving for college in the fall but that the others are there for their lifetimes.   I had jobs like this when I was a teenager, and felt I learned an incredible amount from my immersion into the working world.

Just as Miller did, Baker captures the sense of outsiderdom that the new hire has, yet he is there on a break from college, so his prospects remain far more exciting than those facing the experienced hands. Baker captures the subtleties as the three in this triangle feel each other out or expose themselves -- in the case of the two veterans -- to each other unsuccessfully from all sides.

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