The best Off Broadway productions so far this year—The Flick at Playwrights Horizons, Belleville at New York Theatre Workshop, and Really Really at Manhattan Class Company—would probably make lousy movies. There’s no shame in that, but plenty of irony. After all, the traditional well-made play still serves as the model for most film scripts. To stake out fresh territory, talented young writers like Annie Baker, Amy Herzog, and Paul Downs Colazzo have veered away from the classic theater conventions annexed by films. Turnabout being fair play, they’ve theatricalized film techniques and genres to come up with something all their own.
Baker’s The Flick is a virtuosic example of naturalism. But it’s also a high-concept exploration of the push-me-pull-you relationship between film and theater. Collegiate movie nerd Avery learns how things work behind the screen at the Flick, a movie theater in Worcester County, Massachusetts. His teachers are the 35-year-old, longtime attendant Sam and 29-year-old projectionist Rose. The plot is minimal and the running time is maximal, giving director Sam Gold room to exhibit how theater can match film’s vaunted prowess at exhibiting the flicker of feeling crossing someone’s face.