I can hardly believe that I went back to see the revival of Annie Baker’s workplace dramedy, now at Barrow Street Theatre with the original cast and production team intact. When it premiered at Playwrights Horizons two years ago, I fled (along with a good portion of the audience) at intermission. Since it subsequently won the Pulitzer Prize, I was curious to see whether staying for Act Two might have changed my mind. To some extent, it did improve my opinion of the play. Here’s what I had to say two years ago:
The Flick (Act One) *
Annie Baker may be one of our most acclaimed young playwrights (and Sam Gold, one of the hottest young directors), but I must confess with some sadness that I don't "get" her work. I find her closely observed scenes of ordinary people doing everyday things boring and banal. I was astounded that "Circle Mirror Transformation" won an Obie and is among one of today's most frequently produced plays. Her new play at Playwrights Horizons chronicles the relationships of employees of a slightly seedy movie theater in small-town Massachusetts, likely soon to be a victim of the move to digital projection. Sam (Matthew Maher), a man in his late 30's, is breaking in a new employee, Avery (Aaron Clifton Moten), a depressed black 20-year-old. Rose (Louisa Krause), the green-haired, free-spirited projectionist, takes a shine to Avery. Alex Hanna plays a man who falls asleep in the theater. Perhaps he was destined for greater things in Act Two. I'll never know. After 90 minutes of watching Sam and Avery clean the theater numerous times and having the bright light of the projector repeatedly shined in the audience's eyes, I had had enough. The thought of returning after intermission for another 90 minutes of same was not appealing. I did enjoy seeing David Zinn's perfect recreation of a movie theater. I wish I could join the Annie Baker fan club, but clearly that is never going to happen. Running time: 3 hours, plus a 15 minute intermission.
This time around, I found the first act less annoying, because I knew in advance that there would be very little action in any traditional sense. Baker’s mastery of the mundane does hold a certain fascination and the excellence of the cast merits appreciation. She nails the boring repetitiveness of low-paying jobs and the rewards and limitations of workplace relationships. Nevertheless, I could not escape the feeling that playwright and director were testing the audience to see how much (or how little) they could get away with. Very few people left at intermission this time. Act Two was worth hanging around for. It deepens the portrayal of Avery and Sam, but does not shed much light on what makes Rose tick. There is a narrative arc of sorts, at least for Avery.
There were a few surprising weaknesses. Much of Sam’s big speech in Act Two was inaudible even from the second row. In a couple of scenes the actors were facing away from the audience as they spoke.
I guess I’ll have to accept the fact Annie Baker’s close observations of the quotidian simply do not appeal to me.