BY JEFF LEVENE
The Warehouse Theatre’s production of Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize winning “The Flick” is potentially the most uniquely raw and real piece of theatre to grace the Upstate in at least a decade.
The show captures intimate moments of relative to no significance, following three blue collar Bay Staters, including a thirty something living with his parents, a woman struggling with her own identity and a multitude of debts, and a movie aficionado taking a semester off from college. Through a series of vignettes that capture a range of mundane tasks to more emotionally charged moments, the three build a friendship plagued by oft awkward, and occasionally hilarious struggles with depression, debt and vocation, not to mention the day to day activities of running a decrepit failing movie theatre.
Where “The Flick” shines most is in its ability to turn on an emotional dime, whether it’s launching straight into a discussion about Tamales after a gigantic swell of adventurous Avatar Esque music, or spinning out of control from an ugly cry confession into a frantic rush to clean a horrific bathroom mess. And even too when the audience is forced to bask in the show’s everyday boring moments that our heroes face on a day to day basis, it somehow feels rewarding. Characters will go literal minutes without speaking, yet so much is communicated from each action and from each expression, and in this the audience becomes part of the characters’ lives.
The show, marinating scenes in such real silence, captures those micro-actions of day to day interactions. And director Jess Chayes milks every one of these single moments. Chayes creates these characters’ nuances through pinpoint mannerisms before the audience is formally introduced, and this only makes the characters that much more believable once we get to know their own secrets.
Sean Meehan’s Sam is a lovably dopey loud-mouth northerner, who spins his broom gleefully as he works, and who’s workplace routine shows each drop of effort he has put into a job that only highlights his own struggles in his age and in his love life. Meehan observes every minute detail around him with questioning looks, knowing laughs, and the perfect blend of Bostonian know-it-all bravado and lovingly pathetic hubris.
Julia Christgau as Rose is a wild child at heart, who’s life of excitement and fun is sputtering to a frustrating stop as she grapples with student debts and her self-loathing at her own habitual pitfalls. Christgau encapsulates this whirlwind of letdown as she throws a dance party for one only to be shut down by the realization of her own insecurities.
Christopher Paul Smith also makes a brief but powerful appearance as a new recruit, who in one scene, reinstates that utter uniqueness and awkwardness of the individual.
But Stephen Brown’s Avery is who truly drives this work, combining the prudish nerdiness of Richard Ayoade, with the gawkiness of a dorky movie lover stuck reading comics at a frat party. Brown perfects Avery’s bleak outlook on life, questioning every single issue or thought thrown his way with a soft unsure sense of examination in his voice. He snootily looks down his nose at the world around him not out of superiority, but out of pure frustration and disappointment.
The set, designed by Brandon Roak, is a lavishly dilapidated movie theatre, with rows of faux velvet chairs, once pristine but now peeling wallpaper, asbestos ridden ceiling tiles, and a grimy floor constantly cluttered with popcorn. It’s so clear just how much love and care was put into every inch of aging this once majestic single Cinema.
Marc Gwinn’s sound design is also superb, utilizing old film scores and bits of movie dialogue to contradict the awkward day to day interactions of the coming scene, or even including the beeps and boops of arcade cabinet games coming from the theatre’s lobby.
Likewise Tony Penna’s lighting design literally shines anytime the projector is in use, and also offers a clever transition of a changing theatre near the end of the show.
The Warehouse’s “The Flick” is so filled with these amazing beautiful awkward and above all else, real moments. It’s the interactions, the depression, the dirty bathrooms, the greasy popcorn smell, and the general grime of the theatre that all make this incredible production shine like the silver screen we all love. But unlike the often easy answers or glorious finales in the movies, “The Flick” reminds us that in all things, life still goes on, and no movie magic could make it any more interesting, Its in these mundane struggles that life transcends film as a beautiful worthwhile endeavor.
“The Flick” runs through March 24th, and tickets are available online at https://warehousetheatre.com/the-flick/ or at the box office at (864) 235-6948.