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It takes time, but The Flick is profound and daring theatre

Arts Club’s production of Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play unfolds and impresses in real time
Haig Sutherland, Shannon Chan-Kent and Jesse Reid play employees of old movie theatre in The Flick, which runs until Oct. 29 at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage.

If The Flick were a wildlife painting, it would be a Robert Bateman — perfect in every detail right down to the frost on the whiskers of a coyote. Photographic in its execution. Of course, Bateman carefully selects his subject, the setting and the “look” whether it be predator or prey. And so does Annie Baker make thousands of choices in her 2014 Pulitzer prize-winning play, The Flick. Exact in every detail — right down to the sweeping up of popcorn off the floor and mopping up the spilled soft drinks — Act 1 is almost excruciating in unpacking the lives of three low-paid theatre employees. Sam (Haig Sutherland), in his 30s, is at a dead-end in what is basically a janitorial job. Rose (Shannon Chan-Kent) has moved up from janitorial to projectionist but the theatre, called the Flick, is flickering out and will soon go digital. She will go back to sweeping and mopping or be unemployed. Geeky Avery (Jesse Reid) is just taking a break from his college studies, but he’s emotionally paralyzed, bewildered and blocked.

Lauchlin Johnston’s set takes you by surprise. It’s a perfect rendering of an old-style movie house: rows of seats on a raked floor, recessed lights down the side walls, swinging, double back doors, red EXIT signs and the projection booth up high at the back. There’s a moment of hesitation when you enter the theatre — is that the set or are we supposed to sit there? The set clearly functions as a mirror image of periods in some of our own lives.

Playwright Baker gives us three characters in hyper-real time. And it takes time. Sam and Avery carry on desultory conversations as they, in no hurry, clear the popcorn and wrapper-strew aisles. In Act 1 they reveal little of themselves except their obsession with and amazing knowledge of movies. Sam challenges Avery, the new guy, to link the six or more degrees of separation between actors: Britney Spears and Michael J. Fox, for example. Nerdy and bespectacled, Avery is incredible in his recall.

When Rose (in ripped jeans and wild, blue hair) enters, there’s something in the air. Tension. Longing.

I was restless and irritated by Act 1. Real time can be boring. It takes time for The Flick to get going.

But it gets going in Act 2 and it’s wonderful and sad and funny and, above everything else, it’s real, even profound. It takes three completely necessary hours to get there but it’s well worth the wait.

Dean Paul Gibson directs this fabulous cast (that includes brief appearances of Aaron Paul Stewart as Dreaming Man and Skylar). These are complex, multi-layered souls, and real time allows the actors to fully explore and expand on their characters — long spaces between questions and answers, slow musings, awkward miscommunications, painful realizations, lots of “Huh” moments.

Reid is gangly and awkward in his posture with his arms hanging. As Avery, he is so tortured, so insecure that every apologetic, “Sorry” feels like a blow to the heart. And yet, broken as he appears to be, he is the moral touchstone.

Chan-Kent finds all the contradiction in Rose who appears to be a confident kick-ass sort of girl but who is just as stalled — in different ways — as Avery and Sam. Chan-Kent blows the lid off the Granville Island Stage with a dirty, dirty dance. I’ve never seen anything quite like it and neither has dumbstruck Avery.

Actor Haig Sutherland continues to amaze. He takes his time with many “wait-for-it” moments. The anguish of Sam’s unrequited love is so painful you might weep.

But you won’t leave the theatre sad. Pensive, perhaps. Impressed at the playwright’s intelligence and courage. And amazed that the Pulitzer committee was astute enough to see the brilliance in The Flick.

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The Flick is at the Arts Club Granville Island Stage until Oct. 29. For tickets, call 604-687-1644, or go to