The Flick


Through Sunday, Nov. 11

Northgate Stadium 10, Durham

During college, I worked the box office and concessions stand at a movie theater much like the one depicted in Annie Baker’s 2013 drama, The Flick. The cinema’s slow, scuzzy slide into disrepair came about as the owner’s condescending family alienated the staff of misfit film buffs, college kids, and disaffected burnouts that kept it open. Since books were forbidden (and the smart phone was not yet invented), what I remember most are the idle hours after the showtime rush, with the same Italian film score endlessly serenading the empty lobby.

Baker and Bartlett Theater both get points for verisimilitude in this site-specific production, which is staged in a modest cinema at Northgate Mall. As in its controversial original production in New York, the deceptively gradual pacing and apparent lack of action may challenge the patience of some theatergoers. There is also a sequence some viewers may find triggering: One character’s unconventional, brief, but undesired advances take us uncomfortably close to, if not within, the realm of assault.

But under Jonathan Bohun Brady’s direction, this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama ultimately rewards us with frank depictions of what makes a dead-end job so dead-end in the first place, and its effects on the dreams and aspirations of the people working in one. For Avery (a notable, nuanced Vincent Bland Jr.), an emotionally blocked but bright young film geek taking a semester off from the private college down the road, the movie-theater gig is his first part-time job as he tries to deal with family problems that have plunged him into depression.

But in the economic desert of Worcester County, Massachusetts in 2012, it’s a full-time subsistence for his coworkers, Sam (a robust Jim Roof), a gruff thirty-five-year-old who lives with his parents, and hard-shelled Rose (Chloe Oliver), whose relationships never seem to get beyond the lowest common sexual denominator. Small wonder they all take part in a longtime employee tradition called “dinner money,” skimming a little off the top of ticket sales in lieu of a living wage.

When we first meet these profoundly lonely characters, their futures look as unpromising as that of the run-down cinema where they work. As one of the last 35mm projection houses in the state while movies are going digital, the cinema will have to adapt or close—a hard-to-miss metaphor for the three lives we meet. Against the tedium of Baker’s workaday world, we watch people fumble, more than once, as they search for the courage to reach out to one another and change.

Correction: This review originally misidentified the actor playing Sam. It is Jim Roof, not Ford Nelson.