In a world where we sit in a theater and demand to be entertained in 90 formulaic minutes with different content but familiar beats Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s “The Flick” may seem like theatrical Ambien. However, if you take a moment to rewire your brain you’ll realize that “The Flick” is one of the best character studies of invisible America.
Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, “The Flick,” is a three-hour look at the lives of three minimum-wage employees at one of the last movie theaters in Massachusetts still projecting 35mm film. You must know that aside from the duration, Baker’s play takes place in real time. When you’re watching two actors sweep movie theater rows you’re going to watch them do it for the amount of time it would take any normal person, and you’re going to watch them interact as any normal people. This can lead to what some may see as a sluggish first half. However, take a moment and open your mind to see that Baker has ingeniously portrayed life as it is, and you’ll realize by the end of it that real life has enough drama and comedy even in the quietest of moments that there is no need to constantly escape to the land of 90-minute fantasy.
When a production demands so much of the audience’s attention the actors have to be at the top of their game, and Danny McCarthy, Caroline Neff, and Travis Turner give some of the best performances seen in Chicago in the past fourteen months. McCarthy plays Sam the senior employee at The Flick who constantly gets passed over for promotions despite his seniority and training of new employees. Neff plays Rose, the projectionist who constantly rages against the theater’s owner and has no problem breaking the rules. Avery, played by Turner, is the story’s catalyst and the new employee who considers digital a bastardization of film but rarely speaks loudly about anything else. Avery and Sam’s game of six degrees of separation and they’re conversations that are reminiscent of those in Kevin Smith’s “Clerks” keep the audience engaged with laughs. However, the inner turmoil that each character carries like a case of film is what challenges the audience to realize that they surely carry just as much turmoil in themselves. Each character’s turmoil makes appearances but rarely collides with another character enough to change the dynamic that these three people are not really friends as much as they want or need to be. Where in the beginning of the play you want the interactions to play out like it would in any typical drama by the end of it you’ll sit hoping that it doesn’t stray from the reality it accurately portrays.
It is long, it can drag, and you might say not much happens, but those three things are what elevate “The Flick” to a standard that not many other plays can achieve. Let yourself be challenged, and the beauty of reality will show itself.
“The Flick” runs until May 8 at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company located at 1650 N. Halsted St. For tickets and more information visit steppenwolf.org/Plays-Events/productions/index.aspx?id=641.