Review: The Flick at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre

Review: The Flick at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre
(from left), Travis Turner, Caroline Neff and Danny McCarthy in the Steppenwolf Theatre production of Annie Baker’s “The Flick.” (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

The Flick—a play that truly nudges the art form in new directions or a long and boring show signifying nothing?  To see or not too see, that is the question.

The show, by respected playwright, Annie Baker, opened Sunday making its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre.

The Flick got mixed reviews the first time around in 2013 when it was staged at Playwrights Horizons in New York—most of the critics loved it while audiences were divided.

Then the next year it won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Time for a second look. The second time around the show was remounted off Broadway at the Barrow Street Theater. Again the critics loved it while audiences weren’t as sure.

Now it’s Chicago’s turn. What will this city’s critics and audiences think? Steppenwolf seems to be the perfect venue for this production which could be described as the socioeconomic landscape for low wages and even lower expectations. Or more simply the story of three employees working dead end jobs in a run-down New England movie theater.

The duration of the play seems to be a problem for some. Watching workers sweeping up stale bits of popcorn while sharing bits and pieces of their lives over a three hour and 10 minutes time span is just too long for some.

Yet In a quiet, honest way, Baker whose body of work includes The Aliens, Body Awareness, and Circle Mirror Transformation, gets her message across which is, in a nutshell, that whether one is an “important” CEO making mega-bucks or “just” a hard-working minimum wage employee we are all part of the human race and more alike than different.

The three principles in the play Avery, Sam and Rose are not the people that populate the pages of Town and Country, Vogue, People or Fortune magazines–they live below the radar leading “lives of quiet desperation.”

The Flick_02

Caroline Neff (from left), Travis Turner and Danny McCarthy in the Steppenwolf Theatre production of Annie Baker’s “The Flick.” (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

These “invisible workers” are typical of many of the people that serve us daily. They do their jobs as expected while no one pays attention–unless they spin out of control.

They are easy to ignore, that is, until you get settled in your seat in the Upstairs Theatre at Steppenwolf where you will be transported on a journey into their very real world.

The duration of the play is important to its message. To rush the story would ruin its impact.

At times it is funny, sad or painful but throughout it is honest. We get to know the workers slowly but surely as they reveal themselves to each other.

At its core, the story is about life itself and our universal search for connections–even as we fear rejection.

Selecting the right actors for this play is key–otherwise the slow pace, silent pauses and deary surroundings could become tedious to watch.

Dexter Bullard, directing his first Steppenwolf production with credits ranging from nearly every other Chicago theater to on and off Broadway, pulled together the perfect cast.

The chemistry between the actors creates a realistic slice of life with each actor totally enveloped in their character. Through the give and take between the actors and slow reveals we gain insight into each.

Sam (Danny McCarthy), a 35-year-old nice guy who never went to college oversees the cleaning and concessions staff–as he hopes for more yet realizes that may be all there is.

Avery (Travis Turner), a geeky, depressed 20-year-old African American who has taken some time off college after trying to kill himself has taken the job because of his obsession with film.

The talented Caroline Neff who voted the 2015 Chicago Readers’ Pick for “Best Actress,” plays Rose an attractive young woman who seems to be resigned to her fate of being in the dead end job of projectionist even though she has a college degree.

A highlight of act one was a painful but beautifully executed seduction dance by Rose as she tries to attract Avery whose stilted reaction is both embarrassing and funny. Another poignant moment was when we watch and listen as Avery is on the phone with his therapist pouring out his heart.

Jack Magaw’s rundown and dark movie-house set is the perfect backdrop for the drama. Keith Parham’s lighting, and the sound design and music by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen works together like a well-oiled machine.

It is possible, but not recommended, to watch only the first 90 minutes of the play as we evidenced by a group of ladies sitting near us who were leaving the theater at intermission–thinking the show was over. It wasn’t that they didn’t like the show–they honestly thought it was over. If you do try this–know you will be leaving with a very different picture than if you stayed for the final 90 minutes.

When: Through May 8, 2016
Where: Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted
Tickets: $20 – $85, 312 335 1650 or visit Steppenwolf Theatre
Running time: 3 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission
Rating: ★★★★

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