If you've ever wondered what goes on in the movie theater after you've left — and after you've spilled your popcorn, Goobers and Mountain Dew all over the floor — then you should attend to The Flick, now at Dobama Theatre. In this quietly wonderful piece by Annie Baker, we encounter three movie theater employees in the Boston area who are measuring out their lives with brooms and dustpans.
Even though it's almost as long as the movie Titanic, at three hours with intermission, the rock solid Dobama cast and director Nathan Motta manage to keep your attention riveted throughout.
It's a bit startling to enter the theater, sit down and be facing another bank of theater seats, with a projection room ensconced in the rear wall of the stage. But that is where all the action takes place, as veteran Sam shows rookie employee Avery the ropes. At the beginning, Avery is wracked with nervousness and we think it might be because he's the only black worker on the premises. But soon we realize that this young man, although unfailingly polite, has a raft of other issues.
As for Sam, he knows his way through the rows of seats as he sweeps and mops, but the other pathways of life seem a bit more challenging. And these two are soon joined by a third worker, Rose, who runs the projection booth.
It is absolutely intriguing to see how the playwright slowly unfolds each character through clever, character-specific dialogue that never seems forced or plastic. And as they talk, we learn various facts about them as individuals and as a group. Avery has a particular revulsion for seeing other people's bodily excretions, which is not too handy for a person who has to clean bathrooms for a living. And he also has a facility for recalling actors in virtually every movie he's ever seen, which is amusingly shown when challenged to play a free-form version of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" with Sam.
Sam reveals that he has a "retarded" brother, to whose wedding he is heading on an upcoming weekend. Plus, Sam has a secret yearning for Rose, a desire that is battling his jealousy since she copped the plum projectionist job at the theater even though he had five months seniority. And Rose tries to enlist Avery in the "dinner money" scam they're running, stealing money from the box office till so they can each pocket about an extra $15 each day.
This is a hermetically sealed universe they have created for themselves, and Baker's words keep us entranced as we watch these flawed but essentially good-spirited people try to negotiate their lives, and loves.
But it wouldn't work nearly as well as it does without the right cast. And this cast, while not quite perfect, is damn good. As Avery, Gordon Hinchen manages to clench his whole body when he suffers from nervousness. This is particularly funny when, during an after-hours encounter, Rose makes a play for him as they screen a movie. As good as he is in those moments, there are other times when Hinchen doesn't quite master his longer speeches, including a phone conversation when he discusses a dream with a friend.
But Hinchen has such an innate sweetness, and a love for celluloid as opposed to the digital movie technology, that you just want to hug him. And that serves the play well since the other two main characters are more of a mixed bag. For example, Paige Klopfenstein fashions Rose as a brutally frank chick with green-tinted hair and some show-stopping, nasty-ass dance moves she uses to lure Avery.
As Sam, Christopher Bohan deploys a Boston accent and a slyly oblique attack on his character, which turns what could have been a cliche into a fresh take on a guy with a dead-end job. As he talks trash (literally and figuratively) with his co-workers, Bohan reveals aspects of Sam's personality, often with just a well-placed glance or an extended pause. Sam knows he's not going anywhere, in the cosmic sense, so Bohan's in no rush to let us in on what's going on in his head. And that's fine. The only false notes Bohan strikes are when he can't resist using his well-honed actor chops to spout a couple British impersonations. They're funny, but Sam would do a much less polished English accent.
Nate Miller also plays two small roles that help round out the story, especially at the conclusion when the theater changes ownership.
This long play is chock full of tender, poignant and laugh-out-loud moments that all feel well-earned. And the ultimate take-away is that we see what is required to live a life that includes some actual love, caring and friendship. In this evocative play, the sound of the swishing brooms and mops orchestrates a soundtrack of quiet aspiration. It is a remarkable achievement and well worth a trip to this theater-within-a-theater. And try not to spill your popcorn: Somebody has to clean up that mess.