Gloucester Stage’s ‘The Flick’ Is A Screen Gem (4.5 Stars)

‘The Flick’ – Written by Annie Baker; Directed by Bridget Kathleen O’Leary; Set Design by Courtney Nelson; Costume Design by Lara Jardullo; Sound Design by David Remedios;  Lighting Design by Russ Swift; Presented by The Gloucester Stage Company, 267 E Main St, Gloucester, MA through September 12th.

‘The Flick’, Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning dramedy now running at the Gloucester Stage Company, is everything that Reality TV is not and never was, but probably wished it could have been, if those who produced the shows actually cared about what they were doing. If that sounds like faint praise, it’s nothing of the sort. It’s just that the dialogue so brilliantly captures the essence of its character’s lives as they go about their low level jobs that you really do feel like you’re eavesdropping on a conversation instead watching a play. And unlike Reality TV, it never feels staged. ‘Flick’ also makes a sound case that an ordinary story with three dimensional characters can be just as riveting as any sweeping epic. It’s a testament to the power of live theater over the big (and little) screens.

‘The Flick’ refers to the name of an independently-owned, single screen movie theater in Worcester, MA, that is staffed by a group of directionless young adults with zero respect for the theater’s owner, Steve (who never actually appears). When the play opens, we see Sam (Nael Nacer), a mid-thirties guy in a Red Sox cap, instructing Avery, a nerdy African-American college-age kid, in the fine art of movie theater cleaning. Sam takes his job very seriously, and imparts wisdom to his young charge with all the fastidiousness of a fine craftsman tutoring his apprentice. It may look like a dead-end job to us, but to Sam, it’s what he does for a living and he obviously takes pride in his work. Soon after, we meet the projectionist, Rose, the equally aimless twenty-something who – unbeknownst to her – is the apple of Sam’s eye.

The plot of ‘The Flick’ (the theater may be sold) is secondary to characterization, and Baker gives us three pretty intriguing subjects to observe, with Avery being the most complex. The 20-year old is  taking some time off from his studies at Clark University, following a tumultuous year that included a suicide attempt. He is a rabid film buff, as we gather from his brilliance in playing the “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” movie trivia game with Sam as they clean the theater, but his life is a joyless one, devoid of basic human trust. Marc Pierre gives an intense and morose performance as the Urkel-esque Avery, whom we hope is not damaged beyond repair.
Sam is a study in underachievement, but that doesn’t mean that he is unaware of his station in life. We feel for him when he sounds envious of his “retarded” brother’s wedding celebration that he travels to attend, and when Avery asks him what he wants to be when he “grows up”, his response is painful. “I am grown up,” he responds, almost with bewilderment, before adding, “That’s like the most depressing thing anyone’s ever said to me.” As Sam, Nael Nacer adds to his string of terrific performances this year, displaying a great comic delivery in the process. And Melissa Jesser is perfect as the slacker-ish Rose, saying volumes with her eyes during the plays many long pauses (which are used to great effect). Although she is sometimes downright unlikable, we suspect that she’s as damaged as the rest of the staff and we (mostly) feel for her as well.

The design of the set (by Courtney Nelson) plays a huge role in the staging of the piece, as the audience looks out into the movie seats and projection room as if we are actually in the movie screen looking out, and it greatly enhances the eavesdropping effect. Scenes are introduced with closing movie music as the projector whirrs, and I was reminded of my days as a boy at the old Community Theater in Dedham.

For anyone who’s ever worked in a dead-end job, with its quirky little sets of characters and workplace-specific weird culture, this is a must see. The dialogue is absolutely brilliant and the acting is first rate, and if I’ve given the impression that the play is a downer, fear not, it is very funny at times. When I first learned that it was three hours in length I flinched, but the time sped by. See it, but make sure you use the facilities before it starts. For more info, go to: