Monday, January 11, 2016

The Flick by Annie Baker

When will I ever learn? I should know by now that the Pulitzer Prize for Drama might as well be a Razzie Award for really dumb plays. Proof won the Pulitzer, a play in which the protagonist learns that whereas a mathematical conjecture requires proof, love requires trust. Wow! Hallmark cards have the same level of wisdom at a cheaper price. August Osage County won a Pulitzer. That had a real shocking incest revelation! Well, fine, it's heartening to know that playwrights still think their jaded audiences in this age of sexual anarchy will be shocked by incest, but in the history of drama, incest revelations are a hackneyed trope and in the 2,500 years since Sophocles have long since become a hallmark of very lazy writing.

And now The Flick, a play about three people doing minimum wage work at a Movie Theatre with its heyday long gone. It's one of the last theatres with just one screen and one of the last, if not the last, to have not yet switched over to a digital projector. And, so, there's a lot of stuff in the play about how film is superior to digital, and, yeah, that's somewhat interesting. And one of the characters is a closeted gay, which is a tad unbelievable given that the play is set in Massachusetts (and not in, say, Alabama), but it's just more boring than unbelievable. Fortunately, the play devotes only one scene to this young man's sexual hang ups. Deo gratias! Most of the play is a litany of slaps at moviegoer slobs, you know, the people who spill soda and popcorn all over the aisles or who bring even messier food in the theatre like, say, burritos, etc. Such jokes are funny for maybe five minutes, but this play makes the violations of moviegoing etiquette into a fullblown existential crisis. If the message is that minimum wage workers have petty concerns, well, this is just insulting.

But the real drama in the play comes when the closeted gay guy is caught stealing money from the theatre. His co-workers were in on the scam, too, but he does not rat them out. Instead, he wants them to admit their guilt, and if they do, perhaps the owner will realize that, well, damn, he's just not paying his workers a livable wage, have mercy, and not fire any of them. The two co-workers are too fearful of losing their only livelihood to take a brave stand of solidarity. They would rather the gay guy, who is in college on a full ride and is, they assume, just doing this job for pocket money, take the fall all by himself. Well, hell, I can sympathize with that sort of reasoning. Yeah, it's cowardly, pusillanimous, and demeaning to our common humanity, but that's what the brutal logic of capitalism does to folks. And if that was the message of this play, and I am not quite sure it was--the play seems to want us to be appalled by the co-worker's petty cravenness--, a guy like Karl Marx and others have made this point more powerfully and, moreover, with the urgent rallying cry that if a system like capitalism destroys our human solidarity, then, well, we should destroy capitalism. All this play will move people to do is, maybe, have a quaint pseudo-intellectual chat about it over coffee, served by an underpaid barista.

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