Plays, of course, are meant to be seen and not read, but it’s not always possible to see every play. They are not complete on the page, certainly in contemporary theatre where plays can be more collaboratively made than ever before. However, it encourages us (and hopefully others) to read more widely. For the third year, here is our #ReadaPlayaWeek initiative. And, as achieved in 2015, we shall try to choose 26 male playwrights and 26 female playwrights for our play choices. The plays from the first half of this year can be seen here.
Week 27: Annie Baker’s The Flick (2013)
I was going to blog about this play later in the year as it’s not long finished its run at the National, but I’ve just finished reading it and am so enthused to write about it. Its apparently ‘sold out’ status at the National wasn’t quite true which is annoying as I would have liked to have booked tickets. It’s such a magnetic play, cunningly clever, and with three extremely vivid, well-drawn characters.
What stood out to me was that The Flick parades what theatre is able to achieve that other media such as film cannot. In Hollywood cinema, films so often have to have tightly plotted story arcs, characters who conform to types, and dialogue that is so often clichéd. What’s more is that cinema so often misrepresents and under-represents communities. It is also often pressured (I guess) to meeting expectations of being thrilling or dramatic or purgative or atoning that it can seem forced and unnatural.
The Flick is set in a run down, single screen cinema in Massachusetts, where film fanatic Avery, who suffers from anxiety and depression, has recently started working. There’s also Rose, the unconventionally attractive projectionist. Finally there’s Sam, in his mid-thirties and living back with his parents, who likes Rose despite not really knowing her. For much of the play, we watch Sam and Avery mopping or sweeping up the aisles. It’s a job that comes at the end of each screening; it’s fascinating to consider that every movie showing offers an opportunity for three hours or so worth of escapism, enlightenment and entertainment. But for each screening there’s also this mandatory ritual of Sam and Avery doing this menial task: moaning about the litter, shooting the breeze and discussing movies. As a job it is so regular and perhaps dull that it should be seemingly non-performative. But are we ever not performing even whilst doing something as trivial as mopping up? And after all, Avery is self-conscious, shy and wants to fit in. Maybe Sam and Rose too to a lesser extent.
The play is so much about performance: performance as entertainment and how we all perform in everyday life whether we are aware or not. How can we articulate ourselves truly and effectively without sounding like a pastiche of movie and TV dialogue? In The Flick, these three characters come together in this place of performance (the setting of a cinema and the performances space of a theatre) and socialise, work and try to work out who each they really are as people. There’s no massive plot which takes over, it is simply a character-driven play with characters that talk and act like they are real people.
Of course, how much like real life so called ‘illusory’ theatre can be is problematic as we are aware that it is a performance. However, Baker (and director Sam Gold from what I’ve heard of the production at the National and in New York) achieves things which film can rarely do, certainly in Hollywood. There are moments of enjoyable boredom; moments of characters’ little quirks and niches; moments of anti-climax; moments of inarticulacy. It relishes the awkward and gives room for characters to breathe.
It’s a great play. I completely get the hype. I’d love to see it. I look forward to reading it again.