Tickets: $10-$29; pittsburghplayhouse.com or 412-392-8000.
More noteworthy than the play’s length is its snail pace, which is clearly central to playwright Annie Baker’s design of a very gradually nuanced story of three more or less hapless employees of a scruffy New England movie theater. The director for Playhouse REP, Robert A. Miller, enforces that crawl to a fare-thee-well.
Time affects the threesome differently. The most trapped is Sam (John Steffenauer), about 35, already feeling hopeless and perhaps for that reason moving like a glacier, which makes his big breakdown strangely moving. Least trapped is Avery (Saladin White II), 20, taking a term off from college, with a promising future but his own glacier’s worth of inhibition. Together, they leave spaces in which trees have time to grow.
Somewhere in between those two, in just about every way possible, is Rose (Sarah Silk), 25 or so, pretty and prickly, with an entirely different sense of time. She brings energy and thoughtless impulse into what turns into a kind of triangle.
The play is determined to make you slow down, savor small things and think. I remembered Kipling’s line, from a poem my grandmother made me learn, about the person who can “fill the unforgiving minute/With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run.” I also thought of Dylan Thomas’ greater line, “Time held me green and dying/Though I sang in my chains like the sea.” That’s the sort of time you have to fill.
Along with the gradual revelation of individual hang-ups, the other main topic is the supplanting of real film by digital, which is to say art by commerce. This theater still projects 35 mm celluloid the old-fashioned way, resisting video, surround sound and movie by assault. This theme makes a nice parallel to the play itself.
Of course the three also are being exploited by the [insert term of extreme disrespect] they work for, so you’re glad they get some revenge — although this turns sour, suggesting racism at play.
“The Flick” is partly a procedural, in the sense that it details lots of mundane movie theater elements, selling tickets and concessions, endlessly cleaning up. Since these are places we know, this is fun and often funny.
It’s a feast for film geeks, full of obscure film allusions and bouts of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Avery proves to be a genius of recall, an interesting flip side to his personal inhibitions.
Of course we expect the placid routine and dissatisfied lives to build to a crisis, and in a way they do, a moral crisis that reminds me of August Wilson’s line that his plays are all about “love, honor, duty and betrayal.” For all its meandering, “The Flick” is about at least three of these.
Does it have to be so long to gain that effect? I’m not sure. But those who left at intermission wasted the time they’d already spent and denied themselves the chance to find out.
Of the three actors, Ms. Silk is the most winning, unburdened by a snail-like pace. Mr. Steffenauer makes the most of his heartbreaking (his and ours) breakdown. Mr. White is limited by Avery’s meekness, though he has two explosions, both I imagine borrowed from movies.
You can’t overpraise Dick Block’s set. We enter the small Studio Theatre and find one bank of seats facing another. One is the black box where we sit; the other is the dead-real movie theater, created with lovingly tacky detail, then dressed with lights, sound and movie projector simulation by Andy Ostrowski, Steve Shapiro and Aaron Bollinger.
Ms. Baker wrote the dreadful “Circle Mirror Transformation,” staged five years ago at the Public Theater. Compared to that, “The Flick” is worth a Pulitzer Prize — which it turns out it actually won in 2014. Go figure.
Senior theater critic Christopher Rawson: 412-216-1944.
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