Do you ever feel so uncomfortable in a new situation that you forget how to hold a broom?
Avery (Justin Howard) and Sam (Chris Ginesi), two of the three main characters in the 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning play “The Flick,” are no strangers to this type of scenario. The play’s characters bring us relief in their relatable awkwardness as they work together at a movie house sweeping up after moviegoers.
In an admittedly long and drawn out piece, Shotgun Players’ production of playwright Annie Baker’s “The Flick” tactfully makes the audience acutely aware of how uncomfortable a day job can be. Taking the audience through a journey rife with laughter, emotion and silences, Baker crafts intricate characters who develop from shallow stereotypes of millennial culture into adults struggling with depression and living off of minimum wage.
Despite the play’s admittedly massive three-hour run time, the actors in this Berkeley production, directed by Jon Tracy, did an excellent job of using the time to their advantage. The cast’s performances demonstrated how a person’s outward character is dramatically distant from who they are at their core.
Centered around Avery, Sam and Rose (Ari Rampy), three employees at the run-down movie house “The Flick,” the scenes of the play follow a routine: Avery, an awkward Black college student, and Sam, a white man in his late 30s who has worked at the movie house for years without promotion, clean the aisles of the movie theater after each movie, talking about nothing but movies, of course. Meanwhile, Rose, a white girl in her 20s, sits up in her tower — the projection booth — and obnoxiously flirts with Avery, flaunting both her electric blue hair and her drinking problem.
It is in this routine that Baker underscores how absurd it is that people have to converse, laugh and keep cool in the workplace, when getting up and out of bed is already the hardest part of the day.
The dialogue pivots constantly, weaving from discussing Avery’s phobia of shit (it makes him vomit) to exploring the idea that all of the characters feel like caricatures of people pretending to be OK. This zero-to-a-hundred style maximizes the impact of poignant moments, such as when Sam yells, “Do you know what it’s like to have 20-somethings rising up the ranks of your shitty job faster than you are?” but also has the effect of moving the plot too quickly without proper buildup, throwing the audience off balance.
Throughout the play, there are no salient triumphs or tragedies, no catastrophic or dramatic events. Yet witnessing the character arc of all three characters and how the trio tugs and pulls at one another makes the audience members feel as though they have grown in the last three hours. At the end of the opening night performance, the actors reappeared on stage with tears in their eyes, clearly proving that they had invested their emotions into the play.
The simplistic nature of the set adds to this emotional effect. The entire Ashby Stage audience faced an environment that represented a different version of their own : bright red, empty chairs with stains on them, popcorn and candy strewn on the ground and, when a movie is playing, the reflection of the end credits scrolling on the backwalls.
If nothing else is convincing enough to attend this play, Rose’s dance scene, in which she attempts to seduce Avery, deserves all 5 stars. In a manic frenzy, she shakes her hips and pumps her fists, climbing over all the red seats while Avery stands frozen in the aisle, watching. It is this manic energy and emotion that make all three hours of “The Flick” worth it. In this moment, Rose’s obnoxious dance moves demand that you ask yourself, “Oh god, why am I here?” — which is the entire point.