Reviews, Stage, Theatre

The Flick (QPAC, Brisbane)

| |

What’s the meaning of life? A question that has puzzled the world for ever, since the human race started philosophising thousands of years ago. Maybe that’s why religions were invented, but we’re still no closer to solving it, and the existential answer seems to be Nothing. And yet we want an answer, and so we keep on searching.

This latest twist on the question comes, in this American play, through modern American teenagers, working as cleaners in a run-down movie cinema, which is about to change from-reel-to-reel to video and thus signals the end of an era. This is the end of the world as Rose (Ngaire Dawn Fair), Avery (Kevin Hofbauer) and Sam (Ben Prendergast) know it, and in between sweeping up popcorn, which never seems to diminish in quantity, and wanting to learn how to use the old projector, they debate the eternal question.

It ran for a less than a month off-Broadway in 2014, until it won the Pulitzer Prize that year, and was remounted in 2016 on Broadway and in London, each time with a short run.

This potted history of the production in itself says something about the play and its meaning. “A mundane comedy”, it’s been called, but I heard in it echoes of Waiting for Godot, a slightly fuller but much longer (three hours) version of the endlessly repetitive lives of Vladimir and Estragon. We get the theme very early on, when it becomes clear that nothing is going to happen, and that damned popcorn is going to stay on the floor for ever, in spite of endless sweeping and mopping. I wouldn’t hire them as cleaners!

If it weren’t so well done, you could call it theatre to cut your wrists to.

Every generation has to have its own version of Beckett’s masterpiece, but this one doesn’t quite seem to know its audience. I saw it at a Saturday matinee, and the middle-aged audience were completely baffled, if the comments I overheard interval were typical. Certainly the applause was polite but muted, rather than enthusiastic, and there were endless comments about the length. But I don’t see an Australian teenage audience getting the nuances and references either, because these kids, like so many young Americans, clearly went to top colleges, where philosophy is better respected and taught than it is here.

But in spite of all the potential tedium, the play is gripping, and once you allow yourself to be captured by the rhythm and subtlety of the deliberately underwritten dialogue, you won’t want to leave. The halting, self-conscious dialogue of these underachievers makes you despair for modern youth, for these three are not no hopers, but highly intelligent and find themselves in a world that has no place for them. And that’s why I’d call it a film noir rather than a comedy.

There’s a fourth character called Skylar or Dreaming Man, who isn’t part of the plot, such as it is, but serves as a vague outside commentator, although he could easily be dispensed with. For the genius of the play – and the more I think about it, the more I want to give it this label – lies in the brilliant three bubbles that are the main characters, forever drifting towards each other and wanting to make contact, but forever failing. This frustration is summed up in the scene when Rose attempts to give Avery a hand job, but his inertia causes the whole thing to end in tears, and yet they all keep on drifting around each other.

Avery, the nerd who is a film freak and plays impressive word games with cinema titles, sums it all up. “Maybe it’s never gonna be better,” he says. “Maybe I’m gonna live with my dad for the rest of my life and, like, the actual problem is just that I’m waiting for things to change. Like maybe I’m just gonna be that weird depressed guy and I should just, like, accept it. And that’ll be the life I get.”

And the more you think about it, the depressed you get, because it probably is true, and on so many metaphoric levels. Even that bloody popcorn.

If it weren’t so well done, you could call it theatre to cut your wrists to.

[box]The Flick by Annie Baker, is directed by Nadia Tass as a Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre production for Queensland Theatre (the new name for Queensland Theatre Company). It plays at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC, until March 5.[/box]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *