“The Flick” at Signature Theatre shines a light on movie theater relationships

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“The Flick” at Signature Theatre shines a light on movie theater relationships
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By Jordan Wright (Photo/Margot Schulman)

Playwright Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Flick” is a series of conversations between three movie theater employees. You know, the silent, almost invisible youth who sweep up the spilled popcorn and sticky candy wrappers between showings.

In Baker’s imagining, two 20-something young men — Sam, played by Evan Casey, and new hire Avery, by Thaddeus McCants — form an unlikely friendship. The third member of this incongruous wheel is Rose (Laura C. Harris), the projectionist, a green-haired, self-absorbed and utterly conflicted lost child who changes the reels in this repertory cinema.

The trio form bonds, sometimes strong, sometimes tenuous, as with most people who work together. Maybe they’re light-hearted connections and maybe a romance blossoms, as it does here — but they’re just as complex and bittersweet as any other in the world.

In this absurdist comic drama, James Kronzer gives us a simple set: rows of red theater seats and a projection booth facing the audience, all the better to focus on the evolving relationships. As the men push their brooms and mops through the aisles, perfecting their technique, they begin to form a friendship of shared labor and mutual loathing of the theater’s owner, Steve, interrupted only by Rose, with whom Sam is obsessed. To keep Avery at bay, Sam tells him Rose is a lesbian and introduces him to their scam of robbing the till for “dinner money.” “It’s a tradition,” they insist.

Avery, a terminally shy college student between semesters, is a film geek with relationship issues. Little by little, Sam begins to pull him out of his shell, playing to his strengths — primarily his ability to connect movie stars through the game of six degrees of separation, to which Avery is a savant. The young men bond over their love of 35-mm film and their loathing of digital.

“I think the phrase digital film is an oxymoron,” Avery contends, drawing on Steven Spielberg’s continued use of 35-mm film to make his argument.

Ultimately, Steve sells the theater to a hard-nosed businessman who plans to go digital. At this point, the new owner believes Avery, who is black, has been robbing the till, a scam Sam and Rose instituted and insisted Avery go along with. When they turn on him as a college elite to take the fall, Avery goes ballistic.

Director Joe Calarco divides the vignettes with sweeping soundtrack endings of classic films, providing punctuation for each scene and affording us the time to reflect on the nuances of the unfolding relationships.

It takes riveting performances by an excellent cast to pull off three hours of conversation. So settle in, sans popcorn, for an honest depiction of the curious art of the mundane.

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