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Clever comedy 'The Flick' reveals millennial angst at Forward Theater

Three underpaid movie theater employees take theatergoers on a journey through their warped lives in Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Flick. The show — presented by Madison’s Forward Theater and featuring three up-and-coming Milwaukee actors — continues at the Overture Center through Feb. 14.

Two of the The Flick’s characters — the 30-something, overweight and sensitive Sam (Alexander Pawlowski), and younger projectionist Rose (April Paul) — have worked together for years. Now they are joined by a “new kid,” Avery (Marques D. Causey).

In the first scene, Avery is learning the ropes from Sam: finding out how to get popcorn and spilled soda out from under the seats, taking movie tickets, running the refreshment stand. stand. Avery admits to Sam that he was drawn to working at this particular theater for its 35 millimeter film projector, one of the last of its kind in central Massachusetts. The theater building shows obvious neglect by its owner, the cheapskate Steve (who we never see), and since we only see one customer during the entire performance  (Madison’s Alistair Sewell), it’s evident that the theater’s days are numbered.

Squeezed in between these endless bouts of popcorn sweeping are rare moments of revelation. None of these three have the faintest clue about what they want to be “when they grow up.”

This notion is most painful for Sam, the oldest worker, who is aware of his obsolescence with each passing day. He sheepishly admits to living with his parents, as does the 20-year-old Avery, who plans to return to college the following semester. Rose, who has a roommate and acts as though she’s the most worldly of the bunch, has already graduated from college, but she still hasn’t found her niche. Instead, she focuses her energy on hitting on the uptight Avery.

Cleverly, the playwright interrupts this chit-chat with occasional movie clips, brought to life with occasional fades to black and the dim flickering on the “projector” (Stephen Hudson-Mairet’s set places the audience “behind” the movie screen, looking up into the seats). The audience hears phrases from famous movie scenes: Lauren Bacall, as she tells Bogart, “You know how to whistle, Steve”; young Jenny yelling, “Run, Forrest, Run!”; Marlon Brando, lamenting, “I coulda had class – I coulda been a contender.” Then there’s Tom Hanks, yelling, “There’s no crying in baseball!” or Tom Cruise’s client, who declares, “show me the money!”

They’re familiar clips, but by the end of Forward’s production, the audience will be as familiar with the lives of its characters.

Much of the play’s humor derives from odd stories that the characters tell as they pass the time. It’s almost like watching an episode of Seinfeld; very little happens by the end of each successive scene.

In one, for instance, Avery tells Sam about a strange dream he had last night. He will find his way to heaven, he thinks, if only he can locate the one film title that tells the most about his existence. He discovers that the film is Honeymoon in Vegas. Horrified, Avery cannot believe that his entire life can be summed up in such an awful movie. “Well,” says Sam, with a dismissive shrug, “that means you’re a film snob.”   

The Flick boils down to the fact that these characters have no inkling of their own identities. Avery freely admits to behaving “like some character in a movie.” But he also believes everyone else does, too. Rose, who is mostly still trying to figure out who she is, doesn’t pay as much attention to the people around her. So it’s no wonder that she fails to see Sam’s admiring glances despite the fact that they’ve worked in the same small movie house for years.

The talented cast works this material with seemingly incredible ease. Their conversation seems genuine and unhurried. Although the play spans three hours, it doesn’t seem to last nearly that long. It’s a testament to the skill of director Molly Rhode, a well-known Wisconsin actor who’s begun to focus her career on directing in recent years.

A final nod goes to Stephen Hudson-Mairet’s intentionally run-down set, a shift from the set seen in images of the production’s Off-Broadway premiere in New York City, which closed Jan. 10. In that production, the theater looks like a brand-new Marcus multiplex, shiny and new.

The frayed edges of Hudson-Mairet’s set are much more effective. With water-stained walls and barely functional movie seats, this building has seen far better days, ones with films of celluloid, not digitally produced pixels.


The Flick runs through Feb. 14 at Overture Center, 201 State St., Madison. Tickets are $20 to $45 and can be ordered at 608-234-5001 or Visit for more details.

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