COHOES — The 2014 Pulitzer Prize citation for Annie Baker’s “The Flick” reads, “A thoughtful drama with well-crafted characters that focuses on three employees of a Massachusetts art-house movie theater, rendering lives rarely seen on the stage.”
Over 16 scenes in two acts, Baker explores the tedium of some jobs (most jobs?), the creative spirit that invests every human heart despite the nature of that work, and the need for companionship. It’s a theatrical experience that requires patience (the play is long), but the emotional payoff is worth your time. And it’s often very funny.
The work: Cleaning up the theater (The Flick) between movie showings, running the 35-millimeter projector, staffing the concession stand. Repetitious.
The pay: $8.25/hour.
The co-workers: Rose (Cailyn Stevens) is the projectionist; Sam (Bill Geltzeiler) is the 30-something custodian; Avery (Michael Halkitis) is the new hire, followed near show’s end by another new hire, Skylar (Jimmy Cupp).
Rose is a college graduate; 20-year-old Avery has taken a semester off from the college where his father teaches. But for Sam, this job is not an employment way station but rather a way of life. He will teach his colleagues what they need to know before they move on.
As with all changes in workplace situations, these three initially size each other up. For example, Avery faces a moral dilemma about skimming ticket proceeds at the urging of Sam and Rose, a situation that comes back to haunt the trio. Romance? Personal problems? The storyline is a dance as the three strategically plop down in various theater seats between work activities and chew the fat, warily, at first, then more openly as they get comfortable.
The script artfully touches on class, education, economics, race (Avery is Black), and gender equality (for instance, Rose has not taught Sam how to run the projector, a higher-level job he is eager to learn; but she teaches Avery when it suits her).
And, of course, the great irony is that the images flickering in the dark show larger-than-life characters created by stars whose names will never be forgotten. We hear snatches of iconic films between these scenes of ordinary life, thanks to Henry Magorium’s sound design. Mike Hanrahan’s lighting changes and Cupp’s stage management complete the fine show’s fine tech work.
Director Aaron Holbritter is unafraid to let the production (by Casey Polomaine) take its own sweet time, allowing us to experience the moments of slow breathing, hum-drum silences, and calculations as these characters go about their tasks.
When Skylar appears, we already know what’s in store for him, his bored manner notwithstanding.
Rose is observant of others, establishing boundaries for self-protection but eager to open up when Avery’s willing to listen: a touching balance of vulnerability and tough-girl that comes out when she dances in front of Avery, thanks to Stevens’ stunning performance.
Halkitis rightly plays Avery close to the vest, given what we learn about him as events unfold. Exactly why he is so wounded is not clear, but we’re confident there will be an arc to his life, that he can look forward to success. A finely calibrated portrayal by Halkitis.
In a tour de force performance Geltzeiler reveals Sam’s bravado, hurts (even physical) and disappointments. Sam’s manic energy alternates with bewilderment and withdrawal, superbly captured in Geltzeiler’s line readings, replete with a Boston accent, and movements.
Its humor and pathos make “The Flick” an absorbing night in the theater, kin to the social commentary of Barbara Ehrenreich and Ira Glass’s “This American Life.”
WHERE: Creative License, Cohoes Music Hall, 22 Remsen St., Cohoes
WHEN: through Nov. 27
HOW MUCH: $35-$25
MORE INFO: 518.618.2996, or creativelicenseonline.com