note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
What’s so exciting about watching two guys sweep floors, grumble, and clean up a nearly-defunct Worcester movie theater, night after night?
You must see actors Nael Nacer, Melissa Jesser and Marc Pierre in Annie Baker’s, widely acclaimed, 2014 Pulitzer Prize winning dramatic play, “The Flick,” to find out. There’s more here than what meets the eye - much more.
Besides highlighting three mundane, underpaid people with their own battery of individual hang-ups, Baker targets changes in society and technology, and their effect on behind-the-scenes employees you generally wouldn’t notice. But they’re there, with their personal pain, fear, repression, and dense glimmer of hope. Like any drama, there’s also comedy, bittersweet and blatant.
Baker insists her actors incorporate prolonged pauses, silent scenes, as they engage in small talk while doing their sometimes disgusting, habitual chores. Deft director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary follows Baker’s stage directions to the hilt - and she can - because this superlative cast makes every minute a masterpiece. Portraying 35-year-old Sam, who has seniority but was passed over for the elevated position of projectionist, Nacer’s gestures, facial expressions and body language are fascinating. Sam is teaching new, 20-year-old African-American employee, Avery, every detail on sweeping, cleaning, running the popcorn machine, etc. Sam’s good at what he does, taking his job very seriously, but his hopes of being promoted to projectionist were dashed when Rose, whom he calls “cool,” was chosen instead of him. And he doesn’t doubt why.
Rose announces later her promotion doesn’t make any difference,because owner Steve intends to sell the rundown theater, and the new owner is going digital - crushing news to movie trivia buff/college student, Avery.
While Sam goes about his tasks, instructing Avery and discussing some of the less fine points of the job, he’s prone to frustration, unexpectedly exploding at times.
Sam resents Rose, but he also admires her. Portraying Rose, Melissa Jesser adds spice and naughtiness to her role, later admitting, “There’s something wrong with me”.
And Avery? Marc Pierre has all the right nuances portraying the depressed, 20-year-old, who’s paralyzed neurotically and socially. He finds difficulty forming relationships, citing his fear of potentially being accused of wrongdoing because he’s black - a prophetic marker here. In one scene, we voyeuristically eavesdrop on Avery’s phone conversation with his therapist.
Avery also has some unusual phobias, which he reveals to Sam.
Gradually, Sam reveals to Avery his hang-ups and problems, including his recent breakup with a longtime girlfriend, facts about his family, and even the itchy, angry rash on his back.
But what about Rose? She’s flighty, sexy, devil-may-care, but not dumb. She graduated from college and has huge outstanding student loans she’s trying to repay. She’s fascinated with self-conscious Avery, and goes after him inappropriately, during a deeply humiliating scene for him. And that, folks, is the tip of the iceberg.
Rounding out the cast is Salem State University senior student James Wechsler, who effectively adds an I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude portraying new, young movie employee, Skylar, a sharp contrast to Avery. Besides set designer Courtney Nelson’s realistic movie theater interior, sound designer David Remedios and lighting designer Russ Swift have created fantastic effects during blackout scenes, simulating film music and sound tracks, projection technology, and more.
“The Flick” may seem mundane, but theatergoers walk away talking, sharing, questioning, observing, and enjoying - all the earmarks of a sensational production.
BOX INFO: 2-3/4-hour, two act play, written by Annie Baker, appearing at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 East Main St., Gloucester, through Sept. 12:Wednesday-Saturday, at 7:30 p.m.; matinees, Saturday, Sunday, 2 p.m. Single tickets, $28; 25-year-olds and younger, $1,cash only, paid at the door; limited seat availability. Check for related events. Call the Box Office at 978-281-4433 or visit www.gloucesterstage.com.