Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Also see Susan's review of Othello
Annie Baker's serious comedy, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014, is a closely examined consideration of three employees of a rundown movie theater, a projectionist and two young men who run the box office, sell concessions and, as the audience watches them, sweep and mop the auditorium floor after the movie ends. It's very quiet and circumspect for the most part, and it runs more than three hours.
That doesn't sound very dramatic, one might think, but it becomes mesmerizing through Baker's empathetic writing, Calarco's delicate handling of three accomplished actors, and the intimate (almost claustrophobic) staging in the small ARK Theatre. Scenic designer James Kronzer has created the image of a movie house that hasn't seen any major renovations since the 1970s: the draperies covering the walls, the tubular sconces and industrial overhead lighting, the cheap upholstery repaired in places with duct tape. Above the rear wall is the window to the projectionist's booth, notable because this is one of the few remaining theaters in its area with a 35mm projector instead of a digital projector. (The audience sits behind where the screen would be.)
Slowly and gradually, the characters come into focus. Sam (Evan Casey) has worked at the theater for years and thinks he's seen it all (not necessarily). Avery (Thaddeus McCants), the newbie, is squeamish about some of the things he has to clean up on the theater floor. Rose (Laura C. Harris), who has roughly dyed her hair green, is the projectionist who will lose that job if the theater goes digital. All of them work hard for their $8.25 an hour, plus whatever they can pick up.
So, what happens? The characters bond in various combinations and argue about whether any transcendently good movies have been made in the past 20 years. The two men play "Six Degrees of ..." and drop hints about their lives outside. Rose attempts to break out of her routine. One day is like another ... but put them together and they make up a life.
The actors bring a distinct element to each of the characters: Casey's low-key cynicism and quiet depression, McCants' moments of excitability, Harris' need to fit in somewhere. Calarco has directed them with great tenderness, never allowing their quirks to turn them into caricatures.