Several years ago I read Annie Baker’s The Flick. For the life of me, I wondered how such a beautifully written, gutsy play about working-class heroes in their own ways could be turned into a living breathing stage production that audiences would care about, let alone pay money to see.
As a long time script reader, I also pay close attention to stage directions; not just dialogue. Baker’s stage directions were often enough like this; pause, long pause, exchange looks, happy pause, grim silence and one of my favorite stage directions on page 33 of my hard cover edition of The Flick script, weird pause.
This column is to praise The Flick’s Director Joe Calarco for his casting and direction, and particular praise for The Flick’s emotionally resonant movement choreography. It’s not just physical movement, but it’s how the actors’ eyes present visually what is inside a particular character at any moment in time.
Yes, this is a fan-boys note. My DCMetroTheaterArts colleague, David Friscic, has written a well-deserved glowing review for the Signature Theatre production.
Calarco took seemingly vague stage direction words on the page to turn them into the dance of real life for characters no often represented on area stages; sympathetic younger, decent, diverse working-class folk trying to make their way through life. These too often invisible people that in real life serve so many of us even as they work for low wages with little advancement opportunities and few “honest” benefits – so they improvise to survive. We may not notice them, but they notice us.
To borrow some words and ideas from a recent book I read and an interview with the Washington Post’s dance critic and Pulitzer Prize winner, Sarah Kaufman, The Flick’s cast of Evan Casey (Sam), Laura C. Harris, and Thaddeus McCants (Avery) each have physical grace as they move about the stage, almost as if they are in a dance performance. They move about the stage without bombast or loud “look-at-me” movements. There is sheer beauty to how Calarco has asked them to envision and then show us, a pause, a long pause, a happy pause and the like. Actors are skilled at showing us a character, but in Signature’s The Flick, I came away that the actors had some of their own experiences to identify with in their characters. Even the smallest of parts, one with few lines of dialogue played by William Vaughan, provides a smoothness of movement even when only slowly zipping up a back-pack or covering his head with a hoodie or placing ear-buds.
The actors clearly transmit the vitality and lethargy of everyday living; the slouches, the obsessive gestures, confusion in uncomfortable situations, sexual bravado both real and fake, embarrassment, the utter dismay of loss. I could go on. I can only hope you see the picture I am trying to paint. All those hyper and not so hyper movements we too make, or that we don’t see ourselves doing or don’t see, but others do. All those wordless clues that help those around us try to understand us in our three-dimensionality.
Director Joe Calarco, his cast and his technical artisans have artfully made The Flick a notable production deserving our attention to be paid to it. It is entertaining, indeed. More so, it is a play with weight for how it represents those who are often invisible to many of us, though in our own ways, we are just like the characters in The Flick. We are much better paid, don’t clean up real vomit and real shit, and don’t worry about losing our jobs because video is replacing film stock and don’t have an invented system of “meal money” to help us with paying bills. There are equivalencies in our own work lives if we are honest with ourselves.
The Flick is a visceral, authentic, genuine experience in it 3+ hours of beauty. For me, I found it like sitting in the Rothko Room at the Phillips Collection; letting the sights and sounds wash over me, and hoping to come out more aware of the world around me.
Running Time: 3 hours and ten minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.