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The Flick

Staring back at the audience is a daunting mirror of sorts, Markas Henry's impressive and imposing set: the rear section of a grand old movie palace, its raked seating ascending up to the back wall, which is adorned with house lights and a glass-enclosed projection booth near the top. Inside the booth is a working 35mm projector. We imagine that the fourth wall is the silver screen.

(Left to right) John Jurcheck as Sam and Christopher Hayes as Avery
(L to R) John Jurcheck as Sam
and Christopher Hayes as Avery
Photo: Michael Ensminger
To open Curious Theatre Company's 18th season, producing artistic director Chip Walton rolls the dice with a controversial choice. Despite winning the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2013 Obie Award for Playwriting, Annie Baker's The Flick has generated intense criticism for its length (over three hours, including intermission) and relatively static action. One is reminded of the early reactions to Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot.

Baker's script is very specific regarding the amount of time that the actors take thinking things over, before continuing their conversations. In her defense, at the most elementary level, the characters would indeed interrupt their conversations to get their work done.

Laura Jo Trexler as Rose
Laura Jo Trexler as Rose,
threading the projector
Photo: Michael Ensminger
On the other hand, theatre is generally a medium in which time is compressed, even resequenced out of order. This is an old debate: real time versus theatrical time. One could go back to "Shake-speare's" Henry V and count more than 30 times where the Chorus discusses the notion of "jumping o'er time," a broadside that was the playwright de Vere's response to his contemporary, Philip Sydney, who adamently argued that the theatre must stick to real time and continuous space.

As we've seen, theatre has for the most part proceeded with a flexible approach to space and time, as has the novel. Yet, every once in a while, a real-time approach is the right choice, when the story lends itself to such. Truth be told, while each scene of The Flick takes place in real time, the time sequence of the scenes is compressed, jumping hours, days, or months, as the story's need arises.

Sam (John Jurcheck), a seasoned jack-of-all-trades—usher, box office, and clean-up—explains to the new guy, Avery (Christopher Hayes), the protocol for cleaning up after the movie. He also points up at the booth, to Rose (Laura Jo Trexler), the projectionist.

John Jurcheck as Sam
and Laura Jo Trexler as Rose
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Whatever directions Baker may have provided in her script, it is still the actors that breathe life into the story, and Jurcheck, Hayes, and Trexler fully inhabit the internalized cognitive processes going on in their characters' heads, as well as the emotional winds that blow through their hearts, providing us with a number of salient insights into our culture and human behavior, while telling a compelling slice-of-life story. The big question is: Which audience members can and cannot slow down and fill the space with them?

Baker's conceit has generated an impressive range of reactions, including discussions regarding the dialectic between consciousness and technology. Consider how, in the late 19th Century, the advent of electricity altered the melodramatic technique of posing to ease the strobe effect of gas lamp footlights, bringing with it Ibsen's and Chekhov's naturalistic style in front of incandescent lights; or, how the first films employed a static camera recording action upon a stage, before Eisenstein began storyboarding his shots and moving the camera to capture and edit close-ups, medium shots, and wide angles from various points of view.

John Jurcheck as Sam and Laura Jo Trexler as Rose
John Jurcheck as Sam
and Laura Jo Trexler as Rose
Photo: Michael Ensminger
Likewise, the technological and psychological changes taking place at The Flick make us wonder what we are gaining and what we are losing as technology is increasingly employed for reasons of efficiency (in this case, replacing one of the last operating 35mm film projectors with a digital box), with no consideration of the effects on consciousness and art. Yet, amidst all this heady social theory, there are still the everday interactions and moral choices that drive this thoughtful and open-ended plot.

Curious Theatre Company's regional premiere of The Flick runs through October 17th. For tickets: 303-623-0524 or curioustheatre.org.

Bob Bows

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