Through April 24
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Workplace friendships vary. In Annie Baker’s enthralling “The Flick” now at Signature Theatre, they become incredibly meaningful, at least for a time.
Set in a shabby movie theater in small-town, central Massachusetts, the story follows the evolving triangular friendship of three lonely, low-wage workers who come together for a brief but intense time. The trio includes 20-year-old Avery, an extremely socially awkward film geek who’s taking a year off from school following an emotional crisis; Sam, the 35-year-old career usher who lives in his parents’ attic; and Rose, a 20-something projectionist with intimacy issues.
At almost three-and-a-half hours, Signature’s winning production, superbly staged by the company’s out resident director Joe Calarco, is longish, but it doesn’t lag for a second. In slice-of-life scenes of different lengths, “The Flick” (which won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama when the playwright was 33) explores what happens in a movie theater after the film ends, audience files out and the lights go up.
While they sweep up popcorn and discarded wrappers, ball-capped Sam (Evan Casey) and new employee Avery (Thaddeus McCants) slowly get to know each other. They play a kind of six degrees of separation game in which Sam offers up the names of wildly dissimilar actors and Avery miraculously connects them. Occasionally Rose swoops down from her projectionist booth and playfully vexes her male coworkers.
None of the workers are particularly happy in life but they carry on. Via cell phone to his vacationing therapist Avery says, “Like maybe I’m gonna be that weird depressed guy and I should just like accept it. And that’ll be the life I get. And that’ll be OK.”
Playwright Baker is not afraid to use long pauses of silence reflective of real life work scenarios. Her characters’ casual dialogue — ostensibly mundane exchanges — is in fact usually revelatory and often steeped in poignancy. Scenes end in blackouts followed film score snippets from classics like “The Pink Panther,” “Star Wars” and “Citizen Kane.”
While Baker puts a laser-like, yet never condescending, focus on the happenings of a revival theater that is on the verge of changing from gorgeous 35 mm film to digital, she subtly touches on a range of themes including race (Avery is African-American and the others are white) and class (for Avery whose father is a professor of semiotics at a private university, his job is a temporary gig solely related to his love for film and most likely won’t find its way onto his resume, but for the others, as Rose explains, working at the movie theater is how they feed themselves). It’s a timely piece for a society in which young people saddled with astronomical student loans face an erratic job market and often rely on their parents to live.
James Kronzer has transformed Signature’s intimate ARK Theatre into a broken-down movie theater with battered red seats and projection room facing the audience who serve as the screen or what’s beyond it. The set is authentic right down to the water stains on the drop ceiling.
Calarco’s staging is perfectly in sync with Baker’s amalgam of sadness and mirth. He utilizes every inch of Kronzer’s set. And the cast is a dream from Casey’s tense, but amiable Sam to the beguiling Laura C. Harris’ arch, but vulnerable green-haired Rose, to McCant’s woefully self-doubting but morally upright Avery who registers extreme discomfort on his face and through his posture.
In its deceptively slow and steady way, “The Flick” astonishingly and satisfyingly transports audiences into the world of three fascinating characters.