Watching a scene from “The Flick” is like walking in on a private conversation. The dialogue is deliberately sprinkled with “um”s, “like”s and profanity, and the tiny cast makes for an incredibly intimate setting. Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play centers around three main characters: Rose, Avery and Sam.
Avery is a 20-year-old African-American film aficionado who struggles with his mental health. Rose is a prickly, 24-year-old projectionist who unapologetically speaks her mind. Sam is a melodramatic 35-year-old man who is frustrated with his minimum-wage job, yet is too apathetic to do anything about it. All three work at an old-fashioned movie theater named “The Flick” which projects movies on film but is switching to digital projectors.
“By extension, it is a play about how we are all making the transition to life in a digital world,” said Rob Gander, an assistant professor of theatre and the production’s director. “We’re very good at being social through media now, but we have a difficult time connecting to other human beings, and that’s what the play’s about.”
Gander said he discovered the playwright, Annie Baker, after spending 20 years searching for the next great playwright.
“[I] read all of her plays … in a matter of days,” Gander said, “and was astounded by her ability to sort of capture the world that we live in and how it’s changing, and how that change is impacting us.”
In Annie Baker’s naturalistic style, the characters are written to resemble real people as closely as possible. Each carries around his or her own emotional baggage that gets in the way of navigating their relationships.
Gander describes junior Jelani Best’s acting as “hugely vulnerable”, a quality that comes in handy for playing the role of Avery. In the show, the audience watches Avery speak to his therapist on the phone about his social anxieties, before attempting to actually reach out and connect with his co-workers. These interactions serve as a glimpse into Avery’s mind, showing his struggles with anxiety and depression.
Best said his approach included an exercise he learned from Gander in a class last
He wrote from Avery’s perspective, imagining every detail of his life.
“It felt important to make Avery more of a person and give him a real, mundane life onstage,” Best said, “Like, be able to say, ‘this is how he would just look at an empty movie theater,’ ‘this is how he would sweep,’ ‘this is how he would mop,’ ‘this is how he would try to approach a conversation.’”
Senior Karlyn Puccinelli plays Rose, a sarcastic 24-year-old described in Annie Baker’s notes as “sexually magnetic, despite the fact that (or partly because?) her clothes are baggy, she never wears makeup and her hair is dyed forest green”. Although Puccinelli feels that she is very different from Rose, she said she has felt drawn to the character ever since she first read the play.
“I fell in love with Rose because she’s outspoken and not afraid to be herself,” Puccinelli said, “I wish I was able to be more straightforward with people like she is.”
Despite the differences between Puccinelli and her character, Gander said she plays the role “oddly perfectly”.
Senior Jason Pitak plays Sam, an older employee of the
movie theater who is frustrated to be stuck in a
minimum wage job at his age.
According to Gander, Pitak “may have the most difficult task in the show” by playing Sam, due to the character’s unwillingness to express his feelings outwardly.
“Sam is probably the character least able to articulate his love, least able to articulate his frustrations with life, and so a lot takes place internally for Sam,” Gander said.
The character is difficult for a few reasons, including the fact that he is in his mid-thirties and Pitak is only 21. However, Pitak said his main challenge comes from tackling Sam’s tendency to be “overly dramatic.”
“If something doesn’t go his way, it usually just turns right on its head, and he has this
really big response that almost feels unnatural,” Pitak said.
“He has a lot of sulking moments that seem a little much, and sometimes that can be a little hard to get in the right mindset.”
These three characters struggle throughout the play to connect and establish relationships with each other that go deeper than the surface level. According to Puccinelli, their struggles serve as a statement about “the negative impact technology has on society.”
“In a world where we can talk to anyone in a matter of seconds, how do we respond to people who are right in front of us?” Pitak said. “How do we connect face-to-face, person-to-person?”
After four weeks of rehearsal, the cast looks forward to finally sharing this story with an audience. However, the cast is not entirely sure what kind of response to expect, since the play is originally meant to be three hours long and isn’t filled with action and drama.
“It’s a slow burn,” Pitak said. “but it’s going to be worth it in the end.”
“The very audience that it’s meant to impact may have attention spans that make it difficult to receive the message,” Gander added. “I love Annie Baker for doing that, but the irony of it is not lost on me.”
“The Flick” will play Oct. 13-14 and 18-21 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 15 at 1:30 p.m. in the Redfield Studio Theatre. Tickets will be available at Lawlor Event Center. Limited student tickets are $5 with student I.D.