by Lynn on October 11, 2019

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Streetcar Crowsnest, Carlaw and Dundas, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Annie Baker

Directed by Mitchell Cushman

Set and lighting by Nick Blais

Projection design by Nick Bottomley

Costumes and lobby design by Anahita Dehbonehie

Sound by Richard Feren

Cast: Colin Doyle

Amy Keating

Durae McFarlane

Brendan McMurtry-Howlett

A production that is meticulously detailed and designed and exquisitely directed. And the play is a gem. This is for everybody who loves and is serious about theatre. If you don’t see this, I don’t want to know you.

The Story. The Flick is about three misfits who work in a small cinema named “The Flick” that still uses a projector and has not yet gone to the dark side by going digital.

At about 35 years old, Sam is the senior man at the Flick. He works the box office, refreshment stand and cleans up after every film.  He loves movies.  Avery is a 20-year- old young man who is black—that’s referenced and important to the story. Avery is a film buff, quiet, unemotional and hides things that have bothered him. They are slowly revealed as the play goes on.

Then there is Rose who is the projectionist. She’s perhaps late 20s,  flirty, irreverent, perhaps lacking in a filter when she blurts things out with out thinking with a careless attitude.  They each find some kind of place for themselves there and with each other.  Sam is attracted to Rose and she ignores him, but flirts with Avery. Their stories are slowly revealed.

Annie Baker takes these unlikely souls and weaves a story about misfits finding a place in an unlikely place—a cinema.

 The Production. We are put in the world of The Flick at the get-go with Anahita Dehbonehie’s design of the lobby. It’s designed like an old-fashioned cinema. There is a red carpet, roped off areas guiding you to enter the theatre and a bar that has drinks named for films. And popcorn!! It’s $3.00 for a bag. A deal!

When we enter the theatre proper our seats face Nick Blais’ set of several banked rows of the seats of this 70 seat cinema. The seats are darkish red and were supplied by a bone fide cinema that didn’t need them. There are two aisles to the cinema section.

Up at the back are double doors to enter the cinema. When characters enter or exit through those doors we see posters on the wall on the other side of the doors of a film that is showing. As the play progresses I see a poster for The Black Swan and later for The Avengers. Love that detail from Nick Blais. He makes the audience notice.  It’s also the door where Sam and Avery will enter to sweep the popcorn between shows. Above that is the projection booth where Rose can be seen threading the projector or bopping to music, or doing her job up there.

Even the program is in the form of the calendar of events from the Hot Doc Cinema.

The pace is unhurried. When the lights go down for the production to begin pin lights project out of the projection booth suggesting a film is about to begin. There is the sound of the roar from the MGM lion. Later there is the ponderous boom of music from Twentieth Century Fox. Is that the music of Star Wars? We hear snippets of dialogue from movies (Casablanca, The Wild Bunch) and the game is to try and see if you can figure them out. No worries if you don’t but fun to try.

Sam and Avery enter the cinema with their brooms and dirt catchers in hand.  Initially Sam tells Avery about the various machines that will need cleaning and how to clean them properly. And then they begin sweeping the popcorn that litters the floor. This first scene goes on for several minutes to get the audience in gear to see as well as look at what is happening. The men banter a bit. Sam is always surprised at what people leave behind: detritus from outside food, pudding? (Is that brown blob pudding or something else ickier? If it’s something icky Avery will hurl at the sight.) For several minutes in these many sweeping scenes both he and Sam sweep the popcorn in the bank of seats, under the seats, in the aisles and at the front of the bank of seats. These scenes are separated by a short blackout only to be repeated with more popcorn miraculously appearing in the aisles etc. after the previous film.

These quiet, languid scenes separate those who know what they are looking at and appreciate it and those who are impatient, want the play to move on and miss the point. The point of course is that Sam and Avery love their jobs at The Flick and films and do everything to keep the place pristine for the next audience. It’s part of their work ethic.  And so they make sure that every single kernel of popcorn is swept up. And so does the audience. They are invested in it. They watch ready to pounce if either man misses one kernel. These scenes will contrast later when there is a change in personnel and the new person doesn’t care about the place or cleanliness and is careless in the sweeping. This carelessness is passed on as well. It’s a telling moment in a production full of them.

Sam and Avery play a game while they are sweeping, a kind of six-degrees-of-separation. Sam names two actors and Avery has to figure out a connection in films that will eventually bring them together in the same film. At every turn Sam is astounded at Avery’s knowledge of the obscure fact and film.

The acting is as meticulous, thoughtful and so full of detail and humanity as the production. Colin Doyle plays Sam and is conscientious, drifting in his life and sweet. He wants to be seen and for people to know that he has a life and that people love him and he can love back. He pines for Rose. She ignores him. He pines more.  Amy Keating is a hard-nosed, irreverent and fearless as Rose. She has a dance sequence that illuminates Rose’s uninhibited nature. She bumps, grinds and flips her hair. She’s wild. And later reveals a vulnerable side.

Durae McFarlane plays Avery. This is his Toronto debut. He’s just graduated from the University of Windsor. Remember his name.  He is subdued but present, quiet because he is trying to fit in, watchful and has a moral centre. Does Avery have Asperger’s? One wonders. He has issues he’s dealing with—his parents are divorced and he’s taking a bit of time away from school. He finds comfort at the cinema. I want Mr. McFarlane put under glass and left alone until his next play and I hope that’s soon.  This is a stunning debut.

Director Mitchell Cushman is not afraid to let a scene evolve at its own slow pace. The scenes breathe and live in his meticulous care and observation. The characters live in the dialogue and in the silences and pauses.The running time is more than three hours and every single second is earned.

Comment. Playwright Annie Baker is one of the hot playwrights of the moment. Her plays (John, The Aliens for example) are full of atmosphere and the requirement of patience. The Flick in particular seems deceptively simple but it’s not. It’s full of simmering emotion, complex attitudes towards work, ethics, fitting in, growing and living. Each character changes by the end of her play. Her dialogue is brimming with what is not said and that is a gift to pull that off.

This is a terrific production.

Outside the March and Crow’s Theatre present:

Opened: Oct. 10, 2019.

Closes: Nov. 2, 2019.–Held over.

Running Time: 3 hours 20 minutes, approx.

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