Don’t Miss This Script: The Flick
Annie Baker earned a national reputation on the back of her plays Body Awareness and Circle Mirror Transformation. The latter has been produced just about everywhere over the past several years. My favorite of Baker’s plays, The Aliens, debuted Off-Broadway in 2010.
Baker’s newest work, The Flick, premiered at Playwrights Horizons just this winter. The script is available in a published edition through Playwrights Horizons. What you get with Baker these days is an extraordinarily fine-tuned sensitivity to quotidian human interaction. In these last two plays particularly (The Flick is in many ways an expansion of the kind of work she was doing in The Aliens), Baker shows you just how much there is to see if you look closely at people and places easily passed over. The Aliens featured a young barista and a couple of burnouts haunting the back porch of a coffee shop. The Flick focuses on three employees of a dying one-screen movie theater.
There’s a lot of pleasure to be had in just the relaxed comedy of her dialogue and in her sharp characterizations. Where Baker becomes truly experimental is in her use of time, and it is in this area that The Flick represents her most advanced work. The Flick runs approximately three hours. Much of that running time elapses without dialogue. Two of the principal characters are ushers, and Baker very pointedly includes long passages of them cleaning the auditorium.
It’s easy to see this as self-indulgent, easy to imagine becoming bored. Frankly, I was skeptical of Baker’s insistence on lengthy pauses gaping throughout The Aliens. But if Baker’s interest is in finding the true quality of being in a space with these people (again, usually the kind of people we don’t choose to be in a space with for longer than a conversation), then time is absolutely of the essence. Time and proximity are also terrifically theatrical tools.
Silences are the interstices between speeches, yes, but also often between safe, comfortable thoughts. The flier glides along until the air pressure gives, and she is suddenly faced with a limitless fall. Characters deprived of mind-consuming activity or conversation have to confront the liminal space where they tuck away difficult doubts and fears (sometimes the liminal space is the very source of the fear). This goes doubly for the audience.
As audiences we are accustomed to a constant barrage of new information, new action, such that we never have to fall into the space between thoughts. That space is dangerous, of course, because it lies next to boredom, and an incautious playwright may allow us to drift into that dreaded zone. But there are also rich truths and new experiences to find there. Not for nothing did Tarkovsky refer to himself as a sculptor of time, a phrase I think of often with regard to Baker.
On a last and lighter note, I must say as a former employee of the Angelika in Dallas, it gave me great satisfaction to read Baker’s keen account of working in a movie theater. If any of you have had a similar job in the past, do keep an eye out for this play.