In recent years, Hyde Park Theatre, and director Ken Webster, have been at their best when producing the works of Annie Baker, with pieces like Body Awareness, Circle Mirror Transformation and The Aliens becoming some of their most successful and popular pieces to date. It was only a matter of time, then, before they picked up Baker’s most recent hit, the Pulitzer-Prize winning dark comedy The Flick. Following the three-person crew of one of America’s last film-only movie theaters, The Flick acts as a celebration, and wake, for a the dying art of film, and in the process explores themes of love, sex, and race in modern America.
Hyde Park Theatre as a rare gift for finding budding young talent, and Delante G. Keys may be one of their best finds in recent memory. He completely becomes the neurotic, film-loving Avery with every fiber of his being, with everything from his expression to his gait acting in service to the character. Avery is the newest worker at The Flick, and, though he loves film, is uncomfortable around people, to such an extreme extent that he simply doesn’t have any friends. So many times this kind of character is played purely for laughs, but one of the true wonders of The Flick is how deeply we delve into the emotional complexity of the character. Avery is a loner, and the connections he attempts with his fellow coworkers are both delightful and heartbreaking to watch, as, thanks to his social anxiety attempts to ruin any chance of friendship he may have.
The Flick’s lone female, Rose, is one of the more well-written female characters this critic has come across in recent memory. She’s a strong woman who’s risen to one of the top spots of of the cinema, acting as projectionist, reaching the post sooner than either of her male coworkes. She expresses her sexuality openly, while never being completely defined by it, and her opinions are just as treated as just as valid as those of her male coworkers. Baker is also not afraid to show her more damaged sides, however, and its this side of the character that Hyde Park veteran Katie Kohler plays so well. Kohler excels at reaching deep and finding the emotional core of her character, here bringing a surprising balance of sorrow and spunk to the role. She’s an effervescent presence on stage, but the actress never lets us forget the darkness at the core of her character, letting all the character’s shadows and angles get equal coverage.
Shanon Weaver has a talent for balancing cynicism and vulnerability, and The Flick allows him to further hone this ability, playing the down-on-his luck, hopeless romantic Sam. Senior member of the crew, but also the one who keeps getting passed over, Sam is more of an everyman than his fellow workers, who skew more into movie snob stereotypes. Despite loving mainstream films such as The Bourne Ultimatum and Avatar, Sam is never shown as a boorish plebian, but instead stands as a common point between the two extremes of his coworkers, a calming presence in between Avery’s stoicism and Rose’s exuberance. His tough exterior hides a remarkable sensitivity, which Weaver is able to draw out with gusto near the play’s climax, as a single moment’s revelation changes the way we look at the character. Throughout, Weaver shows remarkable restraint and nuance, allowing the audience to see his character slowly begin to get comfortable with his fellow coworkers.
Though The Flick, on the surface, is about the death of film, it could be seen as a piece analyzing the death of theatre itself. Much in the same way the recent generation cares little about the death of celluloid film, there’s a similar ambivalence towards the theatrical arts, especially in smaller-to-medium sized markets. Those passionate enough to support the arts try their hardest to keep it going, but they’re forced into smaller, boutique experiences, much like the kind of film events Avery mentions at the end of the play. The play becomes incredibly topical to Austinites, whose city is seeing a destruction of the arts communities on an alarming scale, and hopefully will open audience’s eyes to the pressures and strains being put upon this community to this day.
The destruction of the arts is just one of the many subjects that Annie Baker packs into her The Flick. The generational divide, racism, asexuality, homosexuality, slut-shaming, and more hot-button issues in today’s society get their moments in Baker’s piece, and Webster guides the action with a firm hand, ensuring that these messages make it through, while still creating an entertaining, thought-provoking experience. Hyde Park and Annie Baker are once again a match made in Heaven, as together they create one of the company’s best productions in years.
The Flick is playing at Hyde Park Theatre through August sixth, and runs roughly 2 hours and 45 minutes. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit hydeparktheatre.org.
Photo Courtesy of Hyde Park Theatre