Third Rail’s production of The Flick by Annie Baker is a really amazing piece of theatre. Either knowingly or unknowingly, the production utilizes a vocabulary of performance we’ve been at using at the Institute for Contemporary Performance all year: Anne Bogart’s nine Viewpoints of time and space.
For this exercise I just name the viewpoints where I saw them. It won't make much sense unless you've seen or read the play already, and also it's totally full of spoilers. This isn’t a review, but the exercise itself is a form of praise. The Flick closes Sunday, February 11th, and I believe tickets are going fast, so get on that.
The four Viewpoints of time:
Starting with the easy one. It’s a long fucking play. In the program note there was some quote from Annie Baker, about how she wanted to give a seemingly pedestrian story (minimum wage workers at a failing movie theatre) the time and attention normally reserved for grand, epic narratives. It works. God bless great three-hour plays, and God bless Annie Baker.
The whole play is repetition. Sam and Avery clean that theatre again, and again, and again, and again. But subtle variations within this pattern tell a rich story. If it’s brooms, we’re mid-shift. If it’s mops, we're at the end of the night. Sometimes the theatre isn’t empty. Sometimes what they find is grosser than average. How they execute the repeated task changes too. In the first scene, Sam is the better sweeper; faster and more natural in his motions. But then the new guy, Avery, settles in, and he begins outpacing Sam. And this takes us to...
Later, when Avery gets promoted over Sam, Sam shows his frustration thru action, an increased tempo as they clean, rather than speaking it. Avery hustles in a different moment, for a different reason: trying to finish up and get out before Rose can trap him for their impromptu movie night. The circumstances of the play--a failing movie theatre--mean the characters never have to do anything particularly quickly. The next showing is always hours away. This allows the tempo to always mean something, to always move the story forward.
It’s there in the opening scene, as Avery apes Sam’s movements in his first day on the job. It’s there on that impromptu movie night, as Rose and Avery sit entirely aware of each other, and Rose decides to put the moves on. It’s there moments beforehand, as Avery watches Rose dance her amazing, ridiculous dance. It’s there when the sleeping man wakes up. It’s there in all the moments two actors share the projection booth, and must negotiate every movement.
The five Viewpoints of space:
Rose sits right next to Avery on their movie night. But Avery and Sam, when they chat, generally leave a few buffer seats, or the aisle, between them. When Rose is in the booth, she feels miles away from the action in the theatre. When Sam confesses his love for Rose from the down stage-left corner, as Rose stands in midway up the aisle. All these spatial choices help tell the story.
And of course the architecture makes all these choices possible. A few awesome things about the set: the projection booth is so small and so far away, while the theatre is close and big. There are so many fucking chairs, the abundance of chairs leads to an abundance of places to be. We can’t see most of the floor Sam and Avery have to clean, which means there can be surprises down there. And, best of all,it’s a familiar environment, made strange by how we see it and when we see it (said everyone who ever wrote about The Flick(but it’s still true)).
There’s how they sit and slouch in the chairs. There’s how they hunch and shimmy in the projection booth.
There’s behavioral, workplace gestures: how they kick up and down the standing dustpan, how they empty the dustpans into the trash, how they sneak the brooms behind the seat-rests. There’s more expressive gesture: Avery counting on his hands as he plays "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," how Rose puts her feet up.
The seats of the theater impose a topography on the space, and it’s rigid, grid-like. Roughly illustrated, it’s this:
So the best playing space, theatrically, is the center aisle. And, correspondingly, this is where the most theatrical moments happen: Rose’s dance, Avery’s Pulp Fiction speech.