The Flick: time to watch

Jesse Reid, Shannon Chan-Kent and Haig Sutherland in Annie Baker’s The Flick

Look! Look how beautiful and complex human beings are!

In Annie Baker’s gorgeous, Pulitzer Prize-winning script The Flick, three employees of a movie theatre hang around, clean up, and talk. It’s minimalist and it’s slow—it goes on for three hours including intermission—and, when it ended, I wanted more. 

That’s because the script is so subtle, funny, and philosophically complex. For me, it’s about how difficult it is to know ourselves and to make connections with other people. And it’s about the beauty of our efforts.

There are mages of mirrors and illusion all over the place. When you walk into the Granville Island Stage, the theatre patrons’ seats are on one side and the moviegoers’ seats are on the other. (Lauchlin Johnston’s set brings them so close they almost kiss. Never has the awkward Granville Island space felt so intimate.) So we’ve come to watch ourselves.

And the folks onstage don’t know who they are. Their lives are mediocre. “Who do you, like, want to be when you grow up?” 20-year-old Avery asks 35-year-old Sam, who is showing him how to use a broom. Sam has a thing for green-haired Rose, the projectionist, who is aggressively sexual but emotionally unavailable. Rose admits that sometimes she’s afraid there’s something seriously wrong with her.

But through movie trivia games and through personal revelations—the sight of other people’s feces makes Avery puke—they grow closer.

One of the great things about theatre is that it allows us to admit how chaotic our internal lives are. Most of us go around pretending that we’re coherent. But, sitting in the darkness of a playhouse, watching characters struggle, we can allow ourselves to appreciate identity as a process. In one of the most intimate scenes in the play, Avery tells Rose that he thinks everybody is faking it. She asks him if he was faking it when he said that, and he answers, “Well, yes and no.” I felt like cheering. In one of the script’s simplest declarations of love, Rose says to Avery, “Well, I’m fucked up too.”

This material is so delicate that a clumsy production could easily crush it. But director Dean Paul Gibson respects the play’s rhythms. (Playwright Baker is obsessed with time and, in The Flick, she meditates on technology—Will the cinema’s film projector be replaced by a digital model and what will that do to the experience of the light?—and she reacts to our Internet-engorged appetite for stimulation by reminding us that organic time still exists and that observation is still possible.)

Gibson has cast well and he gets lovely performances out of his actors. Haig Sutherland’s work as Sam is as simple, natural, and essential as breath. Emotionally, he goes deep, but he never makes a big deal about it. Jesse Reid ignites all of the humour in Avery’s befuddlement, and a monologue in which Avery does a phone session with his therapist is one of the highlights of the evening. Shannon Chan-Kent’s Rose is abrasive, funny, sexy, and contradictory, just as she should be.

On opening night, Reid and Chan-Kent didn’t go as deep in Act 2 as the script wants them to but, as the run progresses, they may well get there, and there’s already enough juice flowing to sate theatregoers’ thirst for emotional satisfaction.

Alan Brodie’s lighting is spot-on, whether it’s glaring or hypnotic—as when the movies run and, on the characters’ faces and on the cinema seats, we get a flickering hint of another dreamland, another mirror: the life of the cinema.

A number of times during the evening, characters enter the projection booth at the back of the cinema. We can’t hear them when they’re in there. With the lights out in the movie house, they float in a little square of illumination, like fish in an aquarium, and we get to simply watch them and contemplate their frail loveliness. “If I were dying,” I thought, “I would want more of this. More! More!”

THE FLICK By Annie Baker. Directed by Dean Paul Gibson. Produced by the Arts Club Theatre. At the Granville Island Stage on Wednesday, October 5. Continues until October 29.

About Colin Thomas

Colin Thomas is a Vancouver-based editor, an award-winning playwright, and an established theatre critic. Colin helps writers unlock the full potential of their novels, short stories, screenplays, and children's books.

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