Gloucester Stage Company’s The Flick is the kind of theatre that engages audience members of all ages. Set in a western Massachusetts movie cinema, which still shows movies on 35-millimeter film, the three characters (ranging from twenty-two to thirty-five years old) debate, love, and live their simple lives. Beneath this façade of simplicity, playwright Annie Baker constructs a tightly-written, expansive play about growth and change, millenials and expectations, hopes and dreams. Director Bridget Kathleen O’Leary brilliantly explains the play’s appeal in her Director’s Note: “The worlds [Baker] creates are steeped in naturalism and the people in the audience become more like voyeurs than patrons. While the characters in her plays are lost and trying desperately to connect with someone or something that can help them get to whatever is next in their lives, Baker endows them all with incredible humor, honesty, and self-awareness.” Gloucester Stage Company’s impressive cast of youthful energy and heartbreaking realism make this play an astounding piece of contemporary theatre, a must-see for cinephiles and voyeurs of life and all of its complexity.
The Flick centers around underpaid, underutilized movie ushers: Sam (Nael Nacer), a thirtysomething man in a dead-end job, frustrated by his loneliness and lost potential; Rose (Melissa Jesser), the promoted projectionist who hides behind ill-fitting clothes and nonconformity; and newcomer Avery (Marc Pierre), a true movie nerd who is trying to discover his place in the world by escaping to the run-down Worcester, Massachusetts movie theatre for a job and a respite from the rest of his life. Here, they do their jobs, they debate the future of cinema (a particularly poignant comment about the lack of truly “great” movies in the last ten years was a wonderful reflection of the characters’ depth and the playwright’s thoughts), they engage with each other on personal and sexual levels, and, moreover, they lose part of their innocence. In an escape to retreat from the world’s complexity, they are forced to become aware of the prejudice, injustice, and difficulties of growing up in today’s world. Director O’Leary navigates the play’s small talk to excellent effect, plumbing the nuances of silence and response to negotiate each character’s unique take on the world and understanding of each other. The success is in the details, and few productions can boast so many natural moments of surprise and discovery, response and laughter. You truly feel like a voyeur of lives unlike your own, but with deep and rich meaning that make you empathize and care about the characters’ struggles.
Nacer leads the cast as one of the most experienced in the Greater Boston theatre scene, and his Sam is a transformative work of art. Given his breadth of roles, Nacer draws upon something different for his hard-worn, blue-collar Sam. His consistent Worcester accent is infectious and seems to fill even his laughter with a specific sound. His growth, exploration, and despair is ultimately the most heartbreaking. Nacer’s ability to both lead and guide the rest of the cast while portraying the weakest, malleable and fragile character is a testament to Nacer’s professional skills and experience. Fortunately, Jesser’s Rose and Pierre’s Avery match his intensity and their performances are in almost every way his equal. Jesser’s wide-eyed, doe-like responses are laudable for their innocence as well as their silent judgment; her Rose is spunky and resilient, despite the men trying to cast her as a sex object. Jesser rises above being a mere pawn for the men in order to create a more richly-drawn woman in a world of men. Her most praiseworthy scene was with Nacer and her determination was both shocking and beautiful.
Pierre delivered the most nuanced performance; it took me a while to understand his specific choices as the awkward and quirky Avery. His Avery begins as uncomfortable as you feel watching him, as he stutters and is outshined by his vibrant red sneakers. He sulks around the seats, dutifully collecting the abandoned debris from the movie theatre patrons. However, Pierre’s growth is one of the most astounding. With each scene, he sheds one of his layers and defenses, opening up to Rose and Sam in profound ways. Pierre makes such a transformation feel natural and welcome, eagerly sharing part of his character (and self) with the other characters and the audience. One of his best moments is when he is suddenly inspired with the answer to a particularly difficult “Six Degrees (of Kevin Bacon)” question—the discovery is as exciting as the answer.
And that is what O’Leary has constructed in this beautifully constructed play—a story that offers many answers but with discoveries that are the most exhilarating. The play becomes profound upon reflection of what we have just witnessed, making it an ideal play for discussion among millenials and adults alike. Gloucester Stage Company makes the production feel intimate through Courtney Nelson’s grimey and worn movie theatre set, utilizing the modified thrust stage to outstanding effect. As audience members, we feel like we could be part of the set and, yet, we are clearly voyeurs and patrons. The play runs a tad long, but rarely feels like the 3-hour run time. We are so beautifully integrated into the rhythm of this story, the heartbreaking reality of life, and the slow-burn of these characters’ expectations and experiences. The ensemble’s tight-knit performances make this one of the most spell-binding productions of the year. Be prepared to have three new friends, and see Gloucester Stage Company as a new colleague that brings intimate and important theatre to your daily life.
Gloucester Stage Company's The Flick runs through September 12, 2015. 267 East Main Street, Gloucester, MA 01930. Tickets available here.