On my way to the Pittsburgh Playhouse the other night a rare thing happened: I was late. My bus was behind schedule and I had to run down the street, making it to the studio theater at 8:01…just missing the start of the show. But fear not! Due to the long running time of the play the front of house staff would take me in during the first blackout. Shortly afterwards an elderly couple also arrived, so we were all hurried in during the first blackout. It was…not as subtle as we wanted. But we made it in and I appreciated it. Because I work on the front of house staff at a different theater, and I know what a pain in the ass it is to take latecomers (like myself) inside. So kudos to the staff at the Playhouse for doing it, and now let’s talk about one of my favorite new plays: The Flick.
I told you where I work to help you understand why this play resonates so well with me. The Flick takes place in a run-down movie theater and centers on three of its ushers. Avery is the new hire, a 20-year old college student who is obsessed with movies. Rose is an out-of-college carefree type who runs the projection machine. Sam is in his thirties, a bit odd, and has been at the theater for quite a while. The play is set inside the actual theater, with most scenes occurring while the ushers clean the aisles between showings.
The play is a long one (three hours and an intermission) but doesn’t feel that way. The pace is slow (playwright Annie Baker is a fan of long pauses) but the show keeps moving. The ushers perform mundane tasks like sweeping the aisles, but also talk like employees do. They gossip about each other, complain about their asshole boss, express disgust at the humans who leave their brought-in food on the floor (“Someone spilled chocolate pudding or something.”) The play makes it clear that the job isn’t gratifying, but people have to do it anyway. Avery freaks out about a shit-on-the-walls-related incident in the bathroom but Sam quietly calms him down by saying “It’s alright, these things happen in a movie theater.” And he’s right. These things do happen when dealing with the public. And for some reason, it’s normal.
The whole cast does a wonderful job, but I’m going to start by talking about my favorite character, Sam. John Steffenauer does a perfect job of capturing who this man is. He talks slowly, in a sort of stilted way that comes with working a job for so long. He knows the quality of his job but he still takes it fairly seriously. He’s funny when he talks to the others, but there’s some pain in him that brought tears to my eyes. Specifically, in one scene Sam gets upset and asks “do you know how humiliating it is to have twenty-somethings quickly rise above you in the ranks of your shitty job?”. You can laugh at Sam if you want, but his frustrations are genuine. I’ve felt Sam’s pain, and it sucks.
On the opposite end of the spectrum (in more ways than one) is Avery. Avery is younger and is enjoying a full ride to college. In many ways he’s more privileged than the others, but he has his flaws. Avery is one of those people who is REALLY into movies; someone who can tell you everything about a movie, even if he hasn’t seen it. He likes to play the “six degrees away” game by connecting two random actors through who they’ve been in movies with. He loves movies, but has difficulty forming bonds with people. Avery’s youth causes him to stand out from the others: his anxiety attacks make him seem weak, but he still has a vibe implying he thinks he’s better than his job (like most people in their twenties do). Again the actor, Saladin White II, does an excellent job of not making Avery a neurotic stereotype or an obnoxious loser. Each character has moments where you love them and moments where you hate them.
The same goes for Sarah Silk playing Rose, who is more broadly written than the other two characters. She has the “confident cool girl” vibe from the minute she enters the theater in her giant hoodie and proclaims “I’m so hungover”. Her confidence masks her insecurities that don’t come out too often, and her relationships with her male coworkers constructs a really interesting triangle. Rose likes to have fun and seem chill, but there’s also a selfishness to her that comes out when things get serious. Again, no one is the defined “good guy” or “bad guy” here. These are people who work together and share parts of their lives.
What’s so great about Annie Baker’s script is that is really seems to speak to my generation (I’m 27, for the record). These characters talk like me and my peers; they say “like” a lot and they curse. Their conversations are sometimes mundane and sometimes a little “douchey”, but they sound like conversations I’ve had. It captures the feel of a job where people yell at you, leave their trash on the floor for you to pick up, make you clean up their vomit, and at the end of the day people will tell you that you aren’t working a “real” job.
In the argument that maybe theater is dying or is just for old people, I would not hesitate to bring up The Flick. The audience I saw it with was mostly older than me (per usual) and at the end of the play only me and three others gave the cast a standing ovation. Which is ridiculous because the cast clearly worked hard, but in many ways it makes sense. Not all plays are for all people, and I think theater goers of a certain age (“old”) would only enjoy this if they have an open mind and can understand something they don’t really relate to. The Flick is for people like me, and thank God it’s terrific. I’d highly recommend seeing it. I may even see it again. And if I do, I’ll be on time.
Presented by the REP at the Pittsburgh Playhouse
Directed by Robert A. Miller
Written by Annie Baker
Designed by Dick Block (scenery), Michael Montgomery (costumes), Andrew David Ostrowski (lighting), Steve Shapiro (sound), Jeff Swensen (photos)
Starring John Steffenauer (Sam), Saladin White II (Avery), Sarah Silk (Rose), Andy Kirtland (The Dreaming Man/Skylar)
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Playhouse for complimentary press tickets. The Flick runs through April 24th, tickets and more information can be found on their website here.