Review: Box Office Is Bad, But Spirits Are Holding Steady in “The Flick”

“The Flick” is long. Peter Jackson long. James Cameron long. Even if three-plus hours doesn’t sound that long, “The Flick” feels long. Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama is filled with pauses; sometimes, audiences are asked to watch an actor mop the floors and pick up trash. Also, very little happens.

A handful of patrons at the performance I recently attended abandoned ship after the first act, a phenomenon that also was observed among Playwrights Horizons subscribers when “The Flick” premiered there in 2013. (It’s now enjoying, for want of a better word, a second life at the Barrow Street Theatre.)

Sold? Nah? Well, hold on.

The tediously natural two-act drama, directed by Sam Gold (“Fun Home,” etc.), is aimed squarely at film “appreciators.” Not you, ahem, amateurs who can spout Woody Allen dialogue or quote “Goodfellas.” I’m talking hardcore cinephiles, who can play six-degrees-of-movie-separation between Michael J. Fox and Britney Spears while tossing back stale popcorn.

It also feels like a remarkably genuine depiction of what we often hear tossed around as “the human condition."

Our setting is a decrepit movie theater in central Massachusetts, where three underpaid lost souls coo over one of the last 35-millimeter film projectors in the state. Business is lousy; there hasn’t been a sold-out house since “Slumdog Millionaire.”

We, in the audience, face the theater’s main room, with its chairs that clearly haven’t been reupholstered since “Mannequin” was in its first run (if you have to ask … well, ask these guys). So, with rows of chairs facing ahead at more rows of chairs, we could practically be staring at a mirror image of ourselves.

Sam (Matthew Maher) has a shaved head and a Red Sox cap. This job is as far as he’ll go. Rose (Louisa Krause) is beautiful, but unkempt. She’s the only employee allowed to work the projector. Avery (Aaron Clifton Moten, below, with his co-stars) is the newest hire. He’s African-American, and the most sophisticated cinephile of the group. (All the actors appeared in the original run.)

There are continuing dialogues about Sam’s retarded brother; “dinner money,” which is what the three employees call the cash they skim off of ticket sales to boost their salaries; and Avery’s parents, who are recently separated. There is, as well, background noise about a potential sale of the independent theater to one of the large corporate chains.

All the characters are self-serving, with Rose the worst of the trio. Each is eventually let down by the others. You can smell the funk of hopelessness on all of them … it doesn’t hurt that much of the dialogue is scatological in nature, or involves vomit, or in one case a single, smelly old shoe a patron leaves behind after a screening.

Maher, in particular, gives a beguilingly layered performance -- on the surface, his Sam could be a 30-something-year-old loser who still lives in his parents’ attic, but what claws through is an unabiding peace he seems to have made with his lot in life.

Climatically, Avery pens a letter to the theater’s suitor, urging him to forsake the digital revolution. It will make you think of every plea you’ve ever made to someone who couldn’t give a damn about your feelings. The best thing these guys have going for them? At least every few hours the lights dim, and they’re promised one more hit of escapism from their lives.

“The Flick,” through Aug. 30 at Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St. Tickets: $55-$95. Call 212-868-4444.

Follow Robert Kahn on Twitter@RobertKahn

Contact Us