Regional Reviews: St. Louis
I don't know what I'd cutauthor Annie Baker is a restless philosopher, like any good playwright, and each character develops through little snippets of work chat, which is like the slow mystery of erosion as her people are laid bare. On top of that, with thorough staging at R-S Theatrics, director Joe Hanrahan makes any choice of cutting impossible. (He compares the experience of watching a nearly three-hour play to modern "binge watching" of a streaming TV series.) And, scene by thoughtful scene, the latest offering at the Kranzberg Arts Center adds up to an epic view of millennial work-life. You will finally understand that errant nephew of yours.
In The Flick, you're a student of liberal arts and nobody's hiring. And halfway into the routine of your daily shift, cleaning a movie house, you realize you're doomed to be a stranger: thrust in with a wildly disparate bunch, clambering on a trash heap for survival. And then the very next minute, you're as close as two or three people can be, in strange and unexpected ways. But it's still the end of the world. We just didn't know it.
Set in 2012, there are references to many fine movies, as these characters clean up the theater, including Pulp Fiction and Goodfellas (neither of which I've seen, though it doesn't matter). And while it's one of the few movies that doesn't get mentioned by these movie house workers, you can also see the outlines of The Matrix being drawn in the plot of The Flick, in the way these janitors and concessions workers and projectionists slog to keep up an illusion of escape in the cinema.
The seating for us, viewing the play, is on one side of an arena stageand the seating for the movie, heavily littered with popcorn and empty soda cups, is on the other side. The two worlds are separated by the suggestion of a white projection screen, which flickers occasionally between scenes. Nevertheless, we are complicit.
The problem is, all three (or four, eventually) of the characters are so devoted to the magic of moviemakingand the job market so fragilethat they are bedazzled and caught at the bottom of the ladder. The usually brave and bold actor Chuck Winning plays Sam here, who is quite the opposite: a 35 year-old, stuck at home with his aged parents in Worcester County, Massachusetts. It's an excellent performance, where he's gradually stripped of pride and position. He's at a crossroads, turning to find that every path suddenly looks like a dead end.
Jaz Tucker plays Avery, a college student in a summer job. He delivers gentle, heartbreaking moments of pathos, along with a pretty amazing Samuel L. Jackson impersonation, in spite of his reserve and Urkel-like glasses. And, like the main characters in 1994's Clerks, Avery finds much of his time is spent relatively unsupervised amidst every form of earthly corruption, coupled with a frantic social requirement to reimagine one's selftill the lights come up again, every two hours.
Jennelle Gilreath is smooth and languid and diffident as the projectionist, Rosethe unattainable beauty of the piece, even with neon green hair. Later, she will have to take command and make a life-changing decision for all of them, in a startling scene. But several other scenes are about whether or not Sam or Avery could ever have her. As that plot element develops, all three of them learn that sexual liberation only intensifies the pain of rejection.
So that's all they have in this space, their dreams and desires, existing in the crackle along the optic nerve. And, surprisingly, each finds happinesseven if it requires a genuinely magical "Twilight Zone" ending for one of them, while the very last grain of sand is tumbling down through the hourglass.
Through December 23, 2017, at the Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 N. Grand Boulevard, St. Louis MO. For more information visit www.r-stheatrics.com.