“The Flick” is a rich portrait of interpersonal drama

"The Flick"
(Avery) in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of The Flick, a Chicago premiere written by Annie Baker and directed by Dexter Bullard. The Flick is playing through May 8, 2016 in Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre (1650 N Halsted St). Tickets ($20-$89) are available at 312-335-1650 and www.steppenwolf.org.

By Carlos D. Williamson

Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama will continue to draw in audiences for the next few months at the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago.

Baker, who has a number of other awards for her work, won the Pulitzer in 2014 for “The Flick,” which will be featured at Steppenwolf through May 8. The play takes place in real time, not theatrical time, said Hallie Gordon, artistic producer. Gordon added that the events onstage do not unfold quickly, unlike most of the high-octane productions at Steppenwolf.

“In theatrical time, you’re not going to watch someone actually bake a turkey,” Gordon said. “We all understand the theatrical language of that. This [drama] doesn’t do that. It does not speed up places where there needs to be pauses because the [characters] don’t know each other, and they don’t know what to say.”

In this play, Avery (Travis Turner), a 20-year-old who is struggling to find himself, leaves college for a job at The Flick, a dilapidated movie theater in Worcester, Massachusetts. His co-worker Sam (Danny McCarthy), a middle-aged layabout, is perfectly content with chatting about movies with Avery and stealing from their boss, as the two clean the theater each night. Caroline Neff plays Rose who, along with Sam, tries to convince Avery that the money they’re taking is indeed “dinner money.”

Together the trio discuss personal aspects of each others’ lives, including aspirations and past regrets, all while sweeping popcorn and picking up trash onstage.

Neff and McCarthy, who have appeared in previous Steppenwolf productions, returned to the theater for this play after performing elsewhere. Turner made his debut with Steppenwolf  in this play.

"The Flick"
(left to right) Caroline Neff (Rose), Travis Turner (Avery) and Danny McCarthy (Sam) in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of “The Flick,” a Chicago premiere written by Annie Baker and directed by Dexter Bullard. (Michael Brosilow)
She makes quiet dramas between people with simple lives–Dexter Bullard

Director Dexter Bullard said he tried his best not to deviate from the original play and wanted the production to maintain its authenticity. He also said he has a strong rapport with Baker and is a fan of her work.

“[The play] is extremely unique,” Bullard said. “[Baker’s] voice is not like anyone else’s writing today. It’s not a formulated play. She’s exploring something that other people would overlook. She makes quiet dramas between people with simple lives and finds complexities within those lives.”

Bullard not only admires Baker’s unique voice, he added that the dialogue of her characters and the overall construction of her plays are brilliant.

Though most dramatists write scenes filled with action or romance, Baker is more concerned with revealing the truths of everyday life, such as conflict in the workplace and the power struggles between employees, Bullard said.

“Many other playwrights look at her work as an example of how to layer meanings and scenes and characters in order to create such rich portraits,” Bullard said. “[Baker] is very interested in the people and their interactions.”

Tickets for “The Flick” can be purchased in person at 1650 N. Halsted St., by phone at 312-335-1650 or online at steppenwolf.org.

Photo at top: Avery (Travis Turner) in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of “The Flick,” written by Annie Baker and directed by Dexter Bullard. (Michael Brosilow)