As I entered the Suffolk University Modern Theatre to witness Company One’s latest exertion, The Flick by Annie Baker, I was instantly met with a smattering of popcorn, an overturned soda and nine flattened sno caps. And as I yanked my right foot out of a mixture of nacho cheese, milk duds, and gummy krabby patties, I finally managed to settle in to a seat so tight and awkward, I immediately stood up to make sure that I wasn’t actually sitting on Jocelyn Wildenstein’s face. And to make matters worse, the show had already begun. Alone, confused and coated in butter and salt, I checked my pocket watch and discovered it was only 7:30. The show was supposed to begin at 8. I wondered how much I missed. Turns out, not much. The opening scene involved scores of people casually drifting in and out of a fancy theatre, conversing unintelligibly with one another and occasionally grinning and making gestures in my direction. And while I recognize that Baker is known (and often praised) for her use of prolonged routine activities in her plays, after about fifteen minutes of that nonsense, I had almost had enough. And that’s when the house manager asked me (not too politely I might add) to get off the stage.
The lights began to dim as I settled in to a less uncomfortable and relatively uncorrupted seat. I looked at my pocket watch again. 8:06. I thought to myself, “I’m gonna time this beast.” After all, this play is as known for its monumental length as much as for its offering of humorous, understated, and clever insight into the lives of three ordinary, yet headstrong, drifters who work at a movie theater in Worcester, MA. Sam (Alex Pollack) is a 35 year old quirky Jew with a betrothed retarded brother and a family of peculiar and misguided spendthrifts. Suffering from reverse Tourette’s and a yuletide skin rash, Sam struggles with his inability to move ahead and with his penetrating love for a greasy haired co-worker named Rose. Avery (Peter Anderson) is a 20 year old black fella and film geek with a fetish for celluloid. Suffering from the super blahs, Avery takes a break from his free ride at Clark University to allow himself time to deal with his parents’ divorce. Or at least I think that’s why he’s there. He doesn’t need the money. Can somebody tell me why he’s there? Rose (Brenna Fitzgerald) is a twenty something alternachick who works full time as the movie theater’s projectionist and very part time as a lesbian. She’s confident, cocky, sassy, funny, sexy and even vulnerable, but she’ll turn on you like an Astaire and Rogers dance routine. So watch out.
My biggest beef with this show, C1, is the actors. You are competing with several fringe theatre companies, a few of which who insist on casting a mixed bag of talent, sometimes going so far as to cast a nearly 60 year old woman in the role of a 40 year old seductress or casting an actor whose only training involves a Netflix account and reruns of Star Trek... for example. And yet you dare to pull together the most appropriate, well-polished cast that I've seen onstage in quite some time. You've out-and-out denied me the unpremeditated entertainment that I have come to expect from fringe theatre. Alex Pollack provides us with a master class in character development. He walks that almost impossible fine line between authenticity and exaggeration, allowing the audience to sympathize with his character while simultaneously enjoying his ridiculousness. Peter Anderson is genuinely thoughtful (sometimes too thoughtful) as he deals honestly with his self-loathing and as he courageously plows forward in a futile effort to save the dying art of 35-millimeter film making. And Brenna Fitzgerald takes a deceptively difficult role and makes it look effortless. None of the actors' performances were even remotely cringe worthy. Thanks A LOT, C1.
That being said, I'm happy to report that I was absolutely thrilled to sit through a two hour play that kept on for three hours. With all the pauses and the gratuitous janitorial goings-on, I half expected the actors to call for their lines. And without knowing the script at all, I was ready to provide them with one. In fact, I had time to write a few of my own, starting with a two page monologue for poor Steve Chueka who apparently drew the short straw when he was offered the role of Skylar/Dreaming Man. I can only assume that the green room couch at the Modern hasn't seen that much action from an actor since Actors' Shakespeare Project held auditions for its December 2013 production of Henry VIII.
If you've got time to kill and are in desperate need of relatively inexpensive acting lessons, then check out Company One's New England Premiere of Annie Baker's The Flick: Tickets