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The Flick
by Annie Baker
Directed by Joe Hanrahan
R-S Theatrics
December 8, 2017

Jennelle Gilreath, Jaz Tucker, Chuck Winning
Photo by Michael Young
R-S Theatrics

R-S Theatrics’ newest production, currently on stage at Kranzberg Arts Center, is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Annie Baker’s The Flick.  When a show wins that prize, sometimes I find myself wondering what it was about that particular play that made it garner such recognition. This is kind of a small play–not generally the type one thinks of as an obvious major award winner. Still, there’s a lot of insight here, looking at the workers at a small movie theatre as something of a microcosm of the human condition. Now being presented at the Kranzberg Arts Center, this production boasts an excellent cast and production values that make you think you just walked into a real movie theatre.

For anyone who has ever worked at a movie theatre, there is a lot to recognize here in terms of experience, especially in terms of the everyday aspects of the job–cleaning auditoriums, running concessions, etc. I worked at one for a summer when I was in college, and I still remember the experience well. Here, playwright Annie Baker has portrayed the experience well, cast with characters who are distinctive as well as archetypal. The show opens as veteran employee Sam (Chuck Winning) is showing newcomer Avery (Jaz Tucker) how to clean the auditorium after a movie lets out.  The set, designed by Keller Ryan, is almost eerily authentic, especially in terms of how the audience is set up in identical theatre seats facing the “auditorium” of the small Massachusetts movie theatre, The Flick, as the story unfolds. We soon learn more about the somewhat secretive Sam, who has an obvious crush on the impulsive, quirky projectionist Rose (Jennelle Gilreath). We also learn about Avery, who is a serious film buff with strong opinions about what makes a good film and also about the medium of film vs. the increasingly popular digital format. The story moves at a leisurely pace, and there is an arc but it takes a while to reach its conclusion. What’s mostly on display here is the interaction between the characters as they share the mundane and not-so-mundane details of their lives, their personal struggles, moral and ethical dilemmas, affections and attractions, and more. It would be fairly easy to look at this play through a Freudian lens, in terms of Id (Rose), Ego (Sam), and Superego (Avery), although the characterizations do have a complexity that can go beyond that description.

It’s a quiet play, really, but there’s a lot going on here in terms of personal dynamics, extremely well played by the excellent cast. Winning plays Sam as approachable but also conflicted and somewhat guarded, and his friendship with Tucker’s earnest, idealistic Avery is eminently believable. Tucker is also terrific in his role, as is Gilreath as the unpredictable, somewhat manipulative Rose. The interactions of all three are what make this play, and their interplay and chemistry bring veracity to all the conflicts and trials, as well as the lighter, more humorous moments. There’s also a fine performance from Tyson Cole in two small roles, of a customer at the movie theatre, and later as another of the employees.

Technically, this production is thoroughly convincing. In addition to the great set, there are true-to-life costumes by Sarah Porter, as well as good use of lighting by Brittanie Gunn. Mark Kelley’s sound design is also great, and the use of snippets of familiar movie music in the transitions between scenes is especially effective.

The Flick is an almost deceptively simple play in terms of format. It’s essentially a workplace drama, a “day in the life” story that shows a few co-workers doing their jobs and revealing their characters through their interactions. It’s a long play, as well, but as simple and sometimes talky as the play can get, it’s never boring. Here, we see life unfolding in a simple, straightforward way, as these characters show us who they are, but there’s also a universal sense of the human condition here, as we see hopes, dreams, ideals, personal tensions, manipulations, power struggles, and more playing out on a small but truthful scale. R-S Theatrics has done a great job of bringing some excellent but not always as well-known plays to St. Louis audiences, and this is another strong example.

Jennelle Gilreath, Jaz Tucker, Chuck Winning
Photo by Michael Young
R-S Theatrics

R-S Theatrics is presenting The Flick at The Kranzberg Arts Center until December 23, 2017.

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