Stray Cat Theatre's The Flick Is Better Than Anyone Can Imagine

Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Phoenix New Times Jackalope Ranch Culture Blog

Specifically, this production, like the original, is almost exactly three hours long, including intermission. Some subscribers at Manhattan's Playwrights Horizons literally walked out. I don't get that -- by the time you've experienced enough theater to subscribe to an off-Broadway company, you really ought to be able to appreciate something wonderful, in whatever form it takes.

And wonderful is what The Flick is. Some of the reasons are hard to put into words. At the beginning of the play, you begin to suspect that at least two thirds of the characters are underachieving, insensitive, self-doubting ordinary people. Later, you'll find that you were perhaps 75% right. About everybody. But there's never a moment when Baker allows you to disrespect them.

Yes, the dialogue is masterfully natural, and maybe that's what makes some audience members rebel against the idea that this is art. Or it's that these characters haltingly talk all around the things they really want or need to say. As people do. And it can be infuriating.

But if you stick with it (and yeah, I've been told the same thing the few times I've had to walk out), you'll find that the little taste of tedium the characters share with you is a 24-hour cold virus compared to the 1918 Spanish influenza they live in 24/7. And, in what is a clear departure from naturalism, each of The Flick's isolated grunts gets at least one transcendent moment of expressing their own absolute truth with clarity, which doesn't necessarily reach its target. (Or even its speaker.)

The other thing critics and audiences tend to mention are the pauses. This cast -- Louis Farber, Micah Jondel DeShazer, and Courtney Weir, all simply phenomenal -- is so engaged that I might not have even noticed that this play has pauses if I hadn't read up on it. Films (good and bad alike) often have long dialogue-free stretches, and, like a film, The Flick has things happening in its quiet moments. Interesting things. You'll watch people sweep and mop, yeah, but you're also watching them think. Avoid each other. Observe each other. Struggle within themselves.

The verdict: Like any other good play, The Flick has a beginning, middle, and end, gradual, subtle exposition, humor when you aren't expecting it, symbolism you can feel free to ignore, characters who change, people you'll like more, people you'll like a little less, and a crisis and denouement. You should just forget that it's well-known for being long and slow. During and after seeing it, I didn't get either of those impressions. Not once. And everything else, too -- the performances, the set, the lighting, the sound design -- is as perfect as it could be.