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Sam, Avery and Rose are the three sad but funny central characters of The Flick.

Dahlia Katz/Handout

  • The Flick
  • Written by Annie Baker
  • Genre Comedy
  • Director Mitchell Cushman
  • Actors Colin Doyle, Amy Keating, Durae McFarlane, Brendan McMurtry-Howlett
  • Companies Outside the March and Crow’s Theatre
  • Venue Streetcar Crowsnest
  • City Toronto

rating

Sam and Avery may talk knowingly of Tarantino and Spielberg, but they’re on the lowest rungs of the film-industry ladder: cleaning the popcorn-strewn, pop-sticky floors of a failing one-screen cinema in Worcester County, Mass.

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Their colleague Rose is one tiny step above them: she’s the cinema’s projectionist. But it’s 2012, and that job is rapidly going the way of the village blacksmith, as 35mm celluloid capitulates to the digital revolution.

These are the three sad central characters of Annie Baker’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning play The Flick. Sad, yes – but funny, too, and angry, frisky and infatuated and, of course, much too intelligent for their menial jobs. We get to know them at great length and intriguing depth, in Baker’s three-hour-plus opus, making its Toronto debut in a highly beguiling immersive production by Outside the March and Crow’s Theatre.

Baker gives her play, if not a Hollywood ending, then at least a hopeful one.

Handout

Sam (Colin Doyle) has been at the job longest and, in his mid-30s, is also the oldest of the three by more than a decade. Avery (Durae McFarlane) is the new kid taking a break from college, and when the play opens, Sam is showing him the ropes. Rose (Amy Keating) was promoted to projectionist over Sam, much to his resentment – a feeling complicated by the fact that he’s secretly, helplessly in love with her.

They’re all film geeks, but Avery, a professor’s son, is something else. Not only does he know his Truffaut and Tarkovsky, his encyclopedic brain can calculate the six degrees of separation between, say, Britney Spears and Michael J. Fox, with a speed that leaves Sam’s jaw on the floor.

Avery also suffers from suicidal depression – as we learn when he and Rose spend an evening alone after work, watching an old print of The Wild Bunch. But then, free-spirited Rose isn’t happy either. She confesses to being unable to stay in a relationship. And similar to Sam, she’s stuck doing her crummy low-wage job in order to survive.

Baker, one of the chief practitioners of the new realism in American playwriting, has already quietly blown us away with excellent Toronto productions of her plays John and The Aliens. Here, she taps into an aching strain of millennial melancholy. Her young people are facing diminished prospects, burdened with student debt and handicapped by excessive sensitivity. The realism extends to the presentation of their repetitive tasks. Throughout the play, they are sweeping and mopping and threading film during the between-screening intervals in the vacated theatre. Baker requests, and director Mitchell Cushman doesn’t stint on, a real-time pacing for these activities, with long, pregnant silences between fragments of dialogue.

The Flick may be suffused with sadness but it’s not ultimately a sad play.

Handout

Cushman, who did that memorable staging of The Aliens for the Coal Mine Theatre two seasons ago, once again draws lovely, low-key performances from his actors. Doyle’s frustrated Sam has a heartening buoyancy that keeps him from becoming pathetic, while Keating nails both Rose’s slovenly charm and her underlying vulnerability. McFarlane is suitably fragile, but too subdued as Avery. That’s fine during his depressive scenes, but the actor doesn’t fully convey Avery’s cinematic passion when defending 35 mm or reciting a favourite Pulp Fiction speech.

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The play unspools entirely in the cinema’s empty auditorium (assiduously designed by Nick Blais), with the audience seated where the screen would be. Similar to Outside the March’s previous hit, 2018’s Jerusalem, the piece lends itself to an immersive staging – during the scene transitions we become the screen, with the projector beam and film images playing over us. Richard Feren’s sound design bombards us with familiar movie music and Anahita Dehbonehie has transformed the lobby of Crow’s Guloien Theatre into that of a plush picture palace, complete with popcorn-dispensing concession stand.

The Flick may be suffused with sadness but it’s not ultimately a sad play. Baker gives it, if not a Hollywood ending, then at least a hopeful one. And we’re reminded her characters are only at the start of their working lives. As Rose tells Avery, “I’m just, like, so curious about my future.”

The play unspools entirely in the cinema’s empty auditorium (assiduously designed by Nick Blais), with the audience seated where the screen would be.

Dahlia Katz/Handout

The Flick continues to Nov. 2. (crowstheatre.com)

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