|Chris Ginesi and Ari Rampy|
Written by Annie Baker
Directed by Jon Tracy
The Ashby Stage, Berkeley
Until October 6, 2019
Playwright Annie Baker slows down the frame rate to follow three employees of a rundown movie theater called “The Flick” where movies are big and everyday life is ordinary.
The audience sits in the dark as “movie music” fills the space. Our view is from behind the screen where blurry chiaroscuro shapes swirl in Rorschach shadows and light. End credits roll, the flickering projection lamp stops, and house lights come up to reveal a small theater that’s seen better days, with sad sconces tacked to dingy green walls surrounding rows of red seats. Popcorn is scattered all over the floor. Lighting, sound, and set design by Kurt Landisman, Kris Barrera, and Randy Wong Westbrooke, respectively, create a convincing small theater experience.
|Justin Howard and Chris Ginesi|
The mess must be cleaned before the next show, and longtime Flick employee Sam (Chris Ginesi) is teaching 20-something Avery (Justin Howard) the ropes of sweeping up. Sam proceeds to move the mop through the back row, slowly and carefully, pushing the debris to the end of the row before sweeping it into the pan. Avery, a geeky and bespectacled black kid, scrawny and introverted, watches and does the same on his end of the aisle. These two move at a pace so slow we wonder if they will ever finish. They finally exit, and soon there is another end credit roll, rousing music, house lights up, and mops manned by the two. This Sisyphean routine is repeated again, film after film, day after day, month after month. At age 35 and still living with his parents, Sam (given a subtle sadness by Ginesi) lives in the stasis between wishing for something better and passive resignation.
|Justin Howard, Chris Ginesi, Ari Rampy|
Sam is drawn to Rose (Ari Rampy), the projectionist who works in the booth above and grabs zzz’s between screenings. The job neither contains nor defines her, and Rampy bursts with dance and joy with this character who moves so fast she’s oblivious to how stuck she is. Rose, Sam, and Avery form a prism of desires, dreams, and disappointments.
Avery lives in a universe where film is all that matters. He reveres the endangered celluloid format because it captures the actual shadows and light of the moment they were filmed and are not manipulated as with digital. Howard presents an Avery who is withdrawn, intelligent, and keeps to himself. Movies are his world and his refuge from real world pain. When Sam coaxes him to play a “six degrees of separation” movie game, Avery grows silent as he scans the movie database in his mind, like a computer, without fun. He comes up with the correct answer every time, showing a heightened sensibility that amazes and intimidates Sam.
|Justin Howard and Ari Rampy|
Rampy sparks Rose with exuberance and curiosity, and although she’s good at her job she really just wants to have fun. Sam yearns for her and wishes she would teach him the coveted skill of projection, for it may mean advancement for him. But she is instead drawn to Avery who is about as responsive as a movie poster.
|Ari Rampy, Chris Ginesi, Justin Howard|
Sam, Avery, and Rose move with and against each other with no real movement or direction, yet we sense their yearning for connection. Avery is on a mission to save cinema. Sam is desperate, lonely, and resigned. Rose keeps moving at a pace too fast for self-examination. These three continue until the inevitable change happens: The Flick is sold to a mega theater company, and the employees become walking brand symbols wearing logo-emblazoned, ill-fitting polo shirts. Conformity and efficiency are the new normal, as shown by how quickly the new employee Skylar (Rob Dario) sweeps up the post-screening mess.
"The Flick" is not so much about characters as it is about movement through time and space. Progress happens, change is inevitable, and one’s life can move forward or wind up on the cutting room floor (an anachronistic reference in a world of digital efficiency).
Like a too-long cut of a film that the director could not bear to edit, "The Flick" challenges your patience. I felt ansty, wanting the characters to do something with their lives until I realized that the pace mirrors the humdrum of routine and weary monotony where one waits for the “good parts” to make it all worthwhile.
"The Flick" by Annie Baker, directed by Jon Tracy of Shotgun Players at the Ashby Stage, Berkeley, through Sunday, September, 2019. Info: shotgunplayers.org
Photography by Ben Krantz Studio | @benkrantzstudio
Chris Ginesi Sam
Justin Howard Avery
Ari Rampy Rose
Rob Dario Skylar & Sleeping Man
Jon Tracy Director
Nikki Anderson Joy Costume Designer
Kris Barrera Sound & Video Designer
Helen Frances Wardrobe Supervisor
Linda Girón Assistant Director
Liz Johnson Production Assistant
Heather Kelly-Laws Stage Manager
Devon LaBelle Props Designer
Kurt Landisman Lighting Designer
Victoria Mortimer Costume Design Assistant
Adeline Smith Scenic Charge Painter
Caitlin Steinmann Master Electrician
Randy Wong-Westbrooke Set Designer
Elena Wright Intimacy Choreographer