Hollywood and the Optimism of Disappointment
Annie Baker's The Flick
Seymour Centre | Sydney
directed by Craig Baldwin
Almost every cinema in the world has completed the transition from analogue to digital. With it comes aficionados bemoaning the loss of authenticity and tradition, in an art form that touches the lives of all. In Annie Baker’s The Flick, not only is celluloid under threat, the employees at a small picture house have friendships that are challenged by what they think to be real or illusory. They spend days together, becoming increasingly intimate, nonetheless always conscious of the distances between. They experience comfort in each others’ presence, however, trust is never a certainty. When push comes to shove, the surprise of betrayal rears its ugly head, and like the technology in their projection room, convenience and cost takes precedence.
The play is beautiful in its sensitivity and wonderfully humorous. Development of its characters and relationships, are cleverly written, replete with nuance and acuity. Dialogue is amusing and brilliantly observed, with contemporary colloquialisms thoughtfully utilised, for an accurate reflection of Western society at this very point in time. These people may or may not be familiar, but we always know exactly how they feel. For cinephiles, The Flick‘s obsessive enthusiasm with film culture, is a very big added bonus.
It is a glorious set, designed by Hugh O’Connor and constructed by Rodger Wishart, thrillingly realistic in its replication of the typical interiors of a movie theatre. Music paying tribute to genres of film are meticulously crafted by Nate Edmondson, who also creates a variety of unmistakably unique sounds, in the form of whirrs and purrs to be heard emanating through the walls whenever we congregate for a movie. Martin Kinnane achieves a surprising range of atmospheric modifications with his lights. He has us transfixed with the unusual perspective offered by having us looking, wrong way round, into the projector lens, watching rays instead of images that have accompanied us hundreds, if not thousands, of times before. Led by stage manager Steph Kelly, technical aspects are remarkably well managed.
Directed by Craig Baldwin, the show is full of resonance; comical, whimsical and emotional. Chemistry between actors is masterfully harnessed, for a thoroughly honest and genuine depiction of social dynamics in the play. Actor Justin Amankwah is convincing, and very charming, in the role of Avery, the withdrawn youngster who loves movies more than he does any human being. His minimal, but precise approach gives depth and intrigue to the story, with a portrayal of mysterious qualities that has us captivated. Also very entertaining is Jeremy Waters as Sam, the Gen X slacker who finds himself suddenly older yet not much wiser. It is an endearingly animated performance by Waters whose nuances are a joy to watch, and whose confidence with punchlines delivers some excellent laughs. Mia Lethbridge plays Rose the projectionist, with a delightful playfulness that prevents the less than agreeable character from becoming too alienating. The three form a tight partnership, and even though the show does extend to the three-hour mark, we never tire of their company.
Avery’s adoration of Hollywood is a reflection of his idealism. His struggles in engaging with real life can be considered in terms of society’s deficiencies, or we can think of it as Avery having problems understanding the world as it actually is. Accompanying the cynicism in Annie Baker’s play, is our unambiguous desire for virtue. The stories we tell may not always be happy and uplifting, but they invariably contain our eternal faith in things that are good. Although new films no longer come to us on film, nothing will stop us from imagining better lives and better worlds, in all our arts and sciences. Of humanity’s many flaws, our naïve belief in progress seems forever invincible.
photo | ©Marnya Rothe