Shotgun Players’ brilliant ‘The Flick’ observes life in a movie theater

Read Time3 Minutes, 15 Seconds
two people sitting in theater chairs
Justin Howard as Avery and Ari Rampy as Rose in The Flick. Photo: Ben Krantz Studio

The good news and not-so-good news is that Shotgun Players’ production of The Flick is three hours long (including a ten-minute intermission). That’s good news because this brilliant 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner takes the time it needs to reveal naturally and fully the three main characters’ lives, personalities, fears, and, aspirations as well as their evolving relationship with each other. The less-than-good news part is that some may find it hard to sit still and concentrate for that long, although theatrical performances routinely used to last a full three-hour evening.

Written by the highly-regarded Annie Baker and well-directed by Jon Tracy (award-winning local director and artistic facilitator for TheatreFirst) The Flick takes place in a run-down movie theater in Worcester County, Massachusetts, on a remarkably realistic and detailed movie theater set by Randy Wong-Westbrooke. We even see the screen reflections of several flickering movies credits (kudos to Kris Barrera, sound and video designer).

The plot of The Flick involves three underpaid movie theater employees who together run the theater for an absentee owner. Sam (a terrific Chris Ginesi) is a mid-thirties white man who lives at home with his parents and sports a beloved Red Sox cap. We wonder what is keeping him in this job. As the play begins, Sam is showing new employee, Avery (equally terrific Justin Howard), a black student who has taken a break from college, how best to sweep up the theater. Although this drudgery is not too arduous a task, at first the diffident and awkward Avery only haltingly completes it. Watching Avery’s body language transform over the course of the production is almost as impressive as his spoken performance.

Avery is a film aficionado and is partial to the 35-millimeter films shown at the theater, as opposed to digital video. He eruditely explains that digital movies are not film because they’re not on celluloid, and therefore, there can never be a “digital film.” Sam and Avery slowly develop a rapport centered on a “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” game, which involves one person naming two improbably connected movie stars and the other tasked with tracing the connection through appearances in other films.

three people in a movie theater
Ari Rampy as Rose; Chris Ginesi as Sam; Justin Howard as Avery in The Flick. Photo: Ben Krantz Studio

Rose (also terrific Ari Rampy) is a young, energetic female projectionist with baggy clothes and dyed green hair. She is the subject of Sam’s and Avery’s fantasies and often, their discussion. But Rose is the least sharply delineated character, perhaps because she is the best adjusted of the three.

Interspersed with many carefully crafted naturalistic pauses as the employees sweep up detritus left by movie-going slobs, the three reveal their innermost fears, insecurities, and hopes for what appear to be uncertain futures. Playwright Baker creatively builds the subtle, and later, more noticeable changes that each of the three workers experiences, both separately and together.

Amidst the pauses, small talk, and movie games, The Flick has an absorbing plot involving the trio’s questionable business practices and the future of the movie house, which reaches a climax that breaches the trio’s bond. There is ample opportunity for meaningful comments on the gig economy, millennials’ search for values, meaningful and satisfying work, as well as on their relationship with each other and with their families.  The Flick has an exciting, original concept, and is superbly well-acted and directed. Don’t miss it.

The Flick is playing at the Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley through Sept. 22. Tickets are $7–$40. For information, extended dates and tickets, visit https://shotgunplayers.org/

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