Annie Baker is a poet of the quotidian, and the setting of her new drama, The Flick, couldn’t get more ordinary: a rundown single-screen movie theater in Massachusetts. The set, by David Zinn, is a kind of visual joke — rows of red theater seats and an upstage projection booth that mimics the auditorium of the mainstage theater at Off Broadway’s Playwrights Horizons.
Baker’s characters feel less like ”characters” than ordinary people whose conversations we just happen to be overhearing. There’s Sam (Matthew Maher), a longtime worker who takes tickets, sells concessions, and prowls the aisles with a broom between shows. There’s new hire Avery (Aaron Clifton Moten), a whip-smart cinephile and son of a linguistics professor who’s clearly slumming it at the Flick. And finally there’s Rose (Louisa Krause), a green-haired punkette whom Sam both crushes on and resents because she was promoted before him to the projection booth.
For nearly three hours, we watch a series of short vignettes that play out like an uber-Seinfeld episode. Only this is truly what a show about nothing looks like. Sam sweeps up popcorn and occasionally brings out a mop. Avery is late for work on his second day. We later find out why. He’s also squeamish about a longstanding scheme Sam and Rose have to skim money from the till. This too has repercussions, but in a way that is almost as quiet and unshowy as everything else in this thoughtful, well-observed character study.
Scenes play out gradually, as if in real time, with pauses in dialogue that are both pregnant and sometimes just plain dull. Working again with director Sam Gold, Baker achieves a kind of ultra-naturalism that makes the occasional oddity or extreme moment — like Rose’s unexpected dance break to a Jay-Z song near the end of the first act — all the more striking. Just as in life, the surreal departures from the norm are the most memorable. B+