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FringeReview UK 2016

Low Down

Anne Baker’s The Flick arrives garnered from New York directed by Sam Gold and designer David Zinn in a production at the NT Dorfman lasting over three-and-a-half hours with all pauses rivetingly intact.


Director Sam Gold and designer David Zinn bring across Anne Baker’s masterly The Flick hot with praise from New York. One can see why.

There’s been a hypnotically naturalistic trend in the post-Mamet generation – Richard Nelson’s The Apple Family Plays, Stephen Adly Guirgis’ The Motherfucker With the Hat (which played at the NT in 2015) and many others – to explore extreme verisimilitude, probably a reaction to the way films both revel in the opposite yet swoop back to it on occasion. Which, in this case, a play about a cinema, poses a level of perfect irony and counterpoint.

Gold serves great credit not simply for keeping an extraordinarily even pulse throughout but particularly for allowing the actors to navigate their unhurried way through the script and on very rare occasions dare to differ with direction. Zinn’s meticulous cinema set just stares back at us, like a faded red mirror.

As an exploration of thwarted love, a Huit-Clos-like triangular thwarting of desire this so gently demolishes love, hope, and yet points to partial redemptions that though rooted to your seat you have to register each shift, each tick of the actors to see just how it’s effected.

Jaygann Ayeh’s Avery, a young black-but-privileged youth is being shown the ropes or rather the sweeping broom by Sam, Mathew Maher’s shaven-headed hopelessly entrenched thirty-five year old, in silent love with Rose, the twenty-four year old who obsesses him and who runs the projection room. It’s the last one in Worcester County, one of the last in Massachusetts. Rose flits in above a lit slit space, the once-red seats below facing the audience sad, dilapidated. The actors seem so too, not only muted in their exchanges for much of the drama but speaking out towards the screen that obsesses them – except Rose who’s ‘over movies’ in the way she tires of men every four months after an initial explosion of sex, something she explores.

She’s smart but damaged, latching on to the super-smart Avery, whose father’s a semiotics professor at Clark University, and who’s tried to commit suicide, talking to his therapist on the phone at one point. The tenderest part of the film is where she fails to arouse him sexually taking his pants down in one of the rows – a couple having unembarassed sex there was alluded to earlier on. They get to talking, she confesses her intense sexuality never lasts, and perhaps we’re warned here about her feelings later; perhaps they’re irrelevant to the plot.

Louisa Krause perfectly projects this muted mix of desire and laconic disavowal, her reined-in dreams and quirky antics – she not too subtly tries a first pass at Avery by bringing in a large astrology book to look up compatabilities, finding to her chagrin his Capricorn’s better at a working relationship than sexual one to her Leo; but that she and Sam both Leos are combustibly compatible: not the answer she wishes.

She also dances on when first alone with Avery and tries to animate him: it droops. She’s meant to be hypnotically sexy without make-up wearing green hair, though this has grown out sadly. She’s more jerky than seductive – though Avery’s sexuality is currently a frozen thing, with issues around his mother’s desertion. Krause has altered authorial directions to suit her downbeat character and quiet, almost swallowed rasp.

A banana-skin appears when Avery initially resists the time-honoured scam of taking extra money with returned and re-sold stubs, which you realize will have consequences.

It’s Maher’s Sam though who punctuates this work with such drawling pauses to bring not only the house but if this was a movie, the whole of Hollywood down on him. He half-articulates ‘awing’ and hesitates outright dislike of Avery who shivers issues of his own around faeces and vomit, to which at one point on discovering these in the toilets he contributes much offstage, which is where Sam’s hostility begins to melt. Up to now they’ve played games where it’s Avery who has to discover connections between two movie actors through a sequence of films. This too brings its own redemption.

Maher’s performance dominates even Ayeh and Krause, superb though they are, in its quiet roar of damage, his realisation that his ‘retarded’ brother and sister-in-law (one fact he never passes to Rose, which Avery inadvertently does) seems – wholly irrationally – to define his own flat-lining ambition as Avery later points out, with sad, final precision.

Sam’s declaration of love for Rose, staring out at the screen and refusing to look at her as she pleads, is a masterly device used frequently here but never with such quiet devastation. It’s as if none of them know how to relate because of the screen and plead to it as a god (Sam prevents a new boy at the end from touching it). Their reality is refracted, an acquired autism of the soul.

We’re not expecting a betrayal or its aftermath, but the muted finality of the last scenes and their unexpected twists neatly wrap a drama about the last of the ‘real’ 35mm films, and the encroachment of digital. The fate of the projector and that equipment, however, is one of the key surprises.

At three-and-a-half hours including interval, this is a brave production for the Dorfman. It pays off in the finest Dorfman production for some time: pitch-perfect for once describes the rolling and yawing of every flicker as it were of emotion and inarticulate smartness before us.