OpenStage’s “The Flick” is heart-wrenching look at the staff of a movie theater on its last legs.

the-flickActing excellence keeps audience awake in longer-than-usual production.

Reviewed by Tom Jones
November 13, 2016

A dying Massachusetts movie theater is portrayed as an aging artifact, one of the state’s few remaining movie houses using 35mm projection. The “digital” age is taking over movie theaters across the country, and The Flick’s three staff members continue their boring work of keeping the theater alive. The three manage the box office, the refreshment stand, run the projector, clean messy restrooms, and most of the time are seen sweeping up spilled popcorn and discarding boxes, cups, and candy wrappers after each film. For nearly three hours the audience watches as two of the three sweep bucket after bucket of refuse while maintaining their sanity with mundane conversation, spiked with “tests” they provide each other about past movie memories. As they chat and sweep, and chat and sweep, they reveal how difficult it is for them to become close to anyone – each other included.

Robert Moore as Avery and Jessica MacMaster as Rose in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Flick by Annie Baker, photography by Kate Austin-Groen Photography
Robert Moore as Avery and Jessica MacMaster as Rose in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Flick by Annie Baker, photography by Kate Austin-Groen Photography

Dan Tschirhart, Robert Moore and Jessica MacMaster are the employees. They provide the magic to the story, as the characters they portray become real persons in a reel environment. Dan Tschirhart, well known to local audiences, is disarmingly convincing as Sam, the oldest of the three employees. He is around 35, still living at home, with nothing much going on in his life – except at the movies. He is jealous of, and in love with, Rose, excellently played by Jessica MacMaster. Rose has been promoted to projectionist, evidently a step above the other jobs in the theater. She is somewhere in her mid-20s, tough as nails, a libido that is always on “full speed,” but keeping much of her private life wrapped in a personal protection shield of her own making. New to the staff is Avery, played with great care by Robert Moore. He is a sensitive young man barely out of his teens, very uncomfortable in his new surroundings. None of the three characters is completely at ease with himself/herself, or with the others. They are protecting themselves with bubbles that often bump into the others, but never with enough force to penetrate their individual space.

Keegan Tovar plays brief roles as a sleeping movie patron in Act One, and as another popcorn sweeper in Act Two.

Robert Moore as Avery and Dan Tschirhart as Sam in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Flick by Annie Baker, photography by Aubrey Renee Photography
Robert Moore as Avery and Dan Tschirhart as Sam in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Flick by Annie Baker, photography by Aubrey Renee Photography

Playwright Annie Baker received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2014 for “The Flick.” The award must have been controversial, as the play itself was not a great success when it opened Off Broadway in New York City, playing for less than a month in 2013. Evidently some critics found it to be amazing; others wanted to leave with much of the audience after the first act. The play was faulted for its length, and basically for its lack of action. “Action” scenes are minimal. There is a delightful first-act romp when Rose drops all inhibitions and grunts and grinds herself to distraction to music she blasts into the theatre before locking up for the evening. Another action sequence is not as dynamic, but is more emotionally intense. Sam explodes with frustration when he learns that Rose has been teaching Avery how to run the projector, instead of teaching him.

Dan Tschirhart as Sam in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Flick by Annie Baker, photography by Kate Austin-Groen Photography
Dan Tschirhart as Sam in OpenStage Theatre’s production of The Flick by Annie Baker, photography by Kate Austin-Groen Photography

While the popcorn sweeping goes on and on, we found ourselves drawn into the characters we were watching. Their minimal dialogue hints of their observations about honesty integrity, sin, guilt, remorse, and acceptance. After a while the audience forgets about the popcorn sweeping and becomes immersed in the day-to-day challenges Sam and Rose and Avery face. There is a little bit of each of us in Annie Baker’s characters.

“The Flick” is directed by Sydney Parks Smith who was such a sensational “Shrew” character earlier this year at OpenStage. As director of this production, she has used great skill in making certain that the characters become very believable. The set it is quite a sight — basically the last few rows of seats in the movie theater. We don’t see the screen, and even one of the employees is faulted for trying to “touch” it. The screen provides such magic to movie-goers that it is to be held sacred.

Seeing the play resulted in my making a resolution to always “pick up after myself” and leaving no popcorn on the floor when seeing a movie!

Audiences are warned that there is “mature language.” The show’s various messages and terrific acting, however, haunt the viewer long after leaving the theater — just as memorable movies have affected us for generations.

“The Flick”
Where: OpenStage Theatre production, on the Magnolia Theatre Stage of Lincoln Center.
417 West Magnolia Street, Fort Collins.
When: Through December 3, 2016
Tickets: 970/221-6730
For more information: www.lctix.com

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