PROVO — On the second floor of the Provo Towne Center Mall, a small, non-profit, liberal black box theatre finds a home for out-of-the-box performances and storytelling. An Other Theater Company prides itself in being, “unique, fresh, empathetic, and inclusive.” Directed by Lisa Hall, the theater company’s production of The Flick definitely presented something unique and arguably inclusive, though not especially diverting or engaging.
The original play, written by Annie Baker, was Pulitzer Prize-winning for “rendering lives rarely seen on the stage,” but there is perhaps a reason that the mundane is not usually portrayed in the theater. It is true that I have never seen anything like this during a dramatic performance, though I have no intentions of seeking out anything even remotely similar.
Unfortunately, the play had almost no substantial content. In addition to being excessively profane and unnecessarily sexual (aside from the plethora of erotic references made, the only female character randomly molests a male character who simply accepts the unwarranted violation during the second act), there seemed to be no plot, no character arc, no moral of the story. I sat for more than two hours watching three underpaid movie theater ushers sweep up popcorn and talk with each other, and there wasn’t a moment I didn’t wonder if there was going to be a point to the evening. Hall eloquently expressed her vision in putting on this show in a note on the back of the play’s program; unfortunately, it was difficult to have the same appreciation for the minute and inconsequential details of the script after viewing the production only once. At no fault of the performers themselves, the play was dull at best.
During both acts, I only ever saw the actors sweep, mop, or sit (though the blocking was well done, keeping cast members moving and using the entire stage rather than remaining in one certain area or another). The most exciting moments, conversation between the characters aside, were when a shoe was found left behind, or a bag of popcorn was thrown on the floor. I wish I would have seen the movie theater employees working the concession stands or selling tickets at the box office to break up the monotony. From the text of the script, there was obviously more to these individuals’ lives and jobs than cleaning up between the seats, and Hall could have portrayed something at least slightly more eventful in the black box setting. The Flick at An Other Theater Company was nothing more or less than boring.
However, from a standpoint more focused on the theatrical performance of the cast and crew, there were several wins; regardless of the lackluster story and poor directorial choices, true talent can be and is found at An Other Theater Company.
The set constructors, Taylor Jack Nelson and Kacey Spadafora, did a fantastic job. Entering the storefront-turned- playhouse, I was greeted by three rows of classic, red stadium seats, scattered with popcorn left on the floor by moviegoers. The old, worn-down theater was complete with the wrappers of snacks sneaked into the auditorium, gum stuck to the bottom of the movie theater chairs, and a small glass panel wherein a vintage 35mm film projector could be faintly seen. Though the idea for audience members to view theater seats from the front rather than the back (which is the norm in our culture today) was not original to An Other Theater Company, Nelson and Spadafora did a splendid job translating that concept to their relatively small space.
Light and sound design were also key in creating the right ambiance for this production, and both were expertly executed. Lighting designer Emma Belnap had three bright green LED spots coming from the projector whenever a movie was to be “playing” in the theater, coupled with dim lights that reflected perfectly off of the red seating to give the effect that a film was actually playing. Belnap’s light design was incredible to say the least. Spadafora was also credited as the sound designer, who helped Belnap’s excellent lighting effects to be even more convincing as the sounds of classic movies played in the background. During each scene change, the subtle ticking of old film prompted the change in the play’s timeline or the start or end of a movie-viewing event. The smart sound design only added to the familiar milieu of a dilapidated, small town movie theater.
The setting and tone being brilliantly rendered, the actors and actress have an obvious knack for what they do. Sam, the veteran of the central Massachusetts movie theater, was played by Isaac Macfarlane. Macfarlane was able to show true emotion, almost having a better relationship with his own character than with the other performers. The intonations in his voice when he divulged his character’s personal backstory in the first half of the play were powerfully persuasive. When expressing Sam’s love to Rose during the second act, Macfarlane conveyed Sam’s innermost feelings in a real and tangible way.
Rose was played by the experienced Laura Elise Chapman who was also extremely convincing. Her green hair (credited by the actress to “Brycey Boy”) and over-sized outfits (by director and costume designer Hall) seemed to perfectly fit her personality as a punk, lewd individual. Chapman portrayed a truly conflicted personality, able to personify the mental challenges Rose was facing authentically. Chapman as Rose was able to be confident as a person, but also show Rose’s genuine flaws and human insecurities.
Actor Dorsey Williams played Avery, the third main character in the performance. Equipped with glasses and the ability to connect real-life movie actors and actresses in the “six degrees of Kevin Bacon” style, Avery’s admiration for the motion picture industry and the medium of 35mm film shone as his lines became quicker when he was excited about a certain topic. Williams’ range of emotion was less evident than those of Macfarlane or Chapman, though the more shallow emotions may be fitting of Avery, the youngest employee at the old-fashioned movie hall.
Though the story may have been an attempt to spark conversation about regular, everyday life, the conversation never lasted very long. Sam, Rose, and Avery were regular people with regular occupations and regular issues. The most (and perhaps only) poignant moment of the entire production, though incredibly short-lived, came near the start of the second act. Rose expressed to Avery that she felt something was truly wrong with her, and the sick-to-the-stomach young college student simply said, “you’re fine.” In real life, as The Flick endeavored to illustrate, sometimes things are not fine, and that’s okay.
An Other Theater Company’s talented cast and crew will not disappoint; however, any production of The Flick would be theatrically unsatisfying because of its bland script and lack of a story line altogether.