The Flick Review: Annie Baker’s Play About Movie-Lovers That (Patient) Theater-Lovers Can Love

The Flick at Playwrights Horizons, withAaron Clifton Moten, Matthew Maher, and Louisa Krause
The Flick at Playwrights Horizons, with
Aaron Clifton Moten, Matthew Maher, and Louisa Krause

Those who have seen the previous gently-paced, meticulous, near miraculous collaborations between playwright Annie Baker and director Sam Gold — “Circle Mirror Transformation,” “The Aliens,” their adaptation of “Uncle Vanya” – may be similarly entranced by “The Flick,” which has now opened at Playwrights Horizons, focusing on three employees of a run-down movie theater in Worcester County, Massachusetts. The cast is exceptional, and the play is just as quietly breathtaking as their previous efforts.

But it also runs longer than their other plays, much longer —  since the characters talk about films all the time, I’ll say Heaven’s Gate longer, reaching towards Andy Warhol’s Empire State Building film longer. Ok, not really; it only starts to feel that way.

Baker’s previous plays have all been no more than two hours. “The Flick” is three hours and 15 minutes – 195 minutes (including intermission.) On hearing the length, devotees of their work may think it inconsequential, and the truth is “The Flick” is wonderful in all ways but this one. Even those theatergoers who wind up agreeing that the play should be shortened may not mind much, but to me, the excessive length indicates something of a breakdown – in Baker and Gold’s exquisite sense of timing, even in the bond between these great theater artists and the audience.

One can understand their dilemma. They want to capture the rhythms of daily life, the real way that people speak, which includes incomplete sentences, silences; this takes time.  At the same time, Baker is also bursting with things she wants to tell us about the three central characters – about their life stories, about their interaction, about their relationship over time – and also about the evolution of the American movie theater.  The result of these two impulses is a play that takes on too much.

Still, there are deep pleasures in “The Flick” from the very start. David Zinn’s set is an impressive and for some reason amusing re-creation of a movie theater, row after row of seats on stage, a projector booth in the back. The real audience is where the screen would be.We are clued into the slow pace right away. For a full two minutes, we listen to the opening music for “The Naked and the Dead” and see the projector light shining in our faces (Remember, we’re the screen.) Then the lights go on in the movie theater and Sam (Matthew Maher) shows new employee Avery (Aaron Clifton Moten) the proper way to sweep the rows of the theater. We watch while they sweep, with broom and dustpan, row by row, mostly in silence. Avery is 20, the son of a college professor, and himself a college student, who is bright, close to brilliant in an idiot savant way; he is awkward around people; reluctant even to look them in the eye. Sam is nearing 40, never went to college, has been at this job too long, and seen others promoted over him. Avery is black, Sam is white.

Enter Rose (Louise Krause), who dyes her hair green and has worked her way up to projectionist.

Slowly, with painstaking care, we eventually see the three develop over one summer into what could be called a love triangle, although that implies the kind of swirling, romantic action that happens in the movies, not the awkward, unrequited, half-articulated desires and fears that happen among them in this movie theater while they are sweeping up in-between (unseen) movies – interaction that feels so real that it’s nearly painful.

Interspersed with this development is much talk about movies. The characters argue over movies,  and play games about movies, in ways that are hilarious, touching, and even informative. “The Flick” is a play about movie-lovers that theater-lovers can love, if they’re patient enough. (It would have been better an hour shorter, though.)

ouisa Krause and Aaron Clifton Moten in an awkward touching and funny moment in Annie Baker's "The Flick" at Playwrights Horizons
Louisa Krause and Aaron Clifton Moten in an awkward touching and funny moment in Annie Baker’s “The Flick”

The Flick

At Playwrights Horizons

By Annie Baker

Directed by Sam Gold; sets and costumes by David Zinn; lighting by Jane Cox; sound by Bray Poor; production stage manager, Katrina Herrmann

Cast: Alex Hanna (Skylar/the Dreaming Man), Louisa Krause (Rose), Matthew Maher (Sam) and Aaron Clifton Moten (Avery).

Running time: three hours and 15 minutes including one intermission.

The Flick is scheduled to run through March 31.

Update: The Flick has been extended to April 7, 2013

Author: New York Theater

Jonathan Mandell is a 3rd generation NYC journalist, who sees shows, reads plays, writes reviews and sometimes talks with people.

11 thoughts on “The Flick Review: Annie Baker’s Play About Movie-Lovers That (Patient) Theater-Lovers Can Love

  1. Since when does a play get a rave review and then the reviewer sheepishly states that it would have been a better play if it had been two thirds the length it was? Can we get over this Annie Baker love fest and admit the Emperor is naked please? Ugh.

    1. You’re free to call my review a rave if you want, but my last sentence is just a repeat of what I say earlier in the review — that the show is too long. ie. “…the excessive length indicates something of a breakdown – in Baker and Gold’s exquisite sense of timing, even in the bond between these great theater artists and the audience..”

      1. I have been a NYC theatregoer, artistic director and director since the early 70’s. The Flick is one of the top delights of a life of theatregoing. *(&(*B the length. It was brilliant. As I said on another comment page, do you decry the length when sitting at the bedside of someone you love? I don’t. I treasure the experience. Same here. Stop with the length whining and be grateful we have people such as Annie and Sam and their gorgeous cast.

  2. The Flick was my first experience of this supposedly dynamic duo and I’m glad to know earlier offerings were much shorter. I agree the acting was impressive, as were the set, the dialogue and the concept. The length was painful in every way including physically. The extended pauses were unrealistic for the characters and the nature of their conversations, as well as the fact that they were talking while working. I was grateful for the scenes featuring Ms. Krause as Rose whose dialogue was refreshingly quicker. I appreciate the need for ho-hum musical interludes but quick bursts would have sufficed. I have been with only one dying person, someone I deeply loved, and yes, it was too long, far too long for her to have had to suffer. Rather than treasure that experience, I cherish the time before it, which was lengthy without tedium.

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