Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe

The Flick

Aux Dog Theatre Nob Hill
Review by Rob Spiegel

Also see Wally's review of Meteor Shower and Dean's review of Pippin

Katherine Jackson, Safwon Farmer, Dachary Vann,
and Brandon Price McDaniel

Photo by Russell Maynor
I love The Flick. I love the writing, the concept, the characters, and the quote from Pulp Fiction—that happens to come from my favorite movie scene, the Ezekiel 25:17 speech by Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) at the end of the movie. I first saw this Annie Baker play at New York's Barrow Street Theatre in 2015, a couple years after it debuted at Playwrights Horizons. In 2014, the play won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, and with the accompanying boost in interest, the original cast reconvened at the Barrow Street Theatre.

I kept my eye out as the play began to show up around the country, hoping it would finally land in Albuquerque. Sure enough, VJ Liberatori at Aux Dog decided to give it a chance and brought in Justin Golding to direct. And they've done a tremendous job with it.

The Flick has received its share of criticism. Many say it's too slow, short on dramatic oomph, and overly long at three hours (including intermission). Others have praised it and other Annie Baker plays for the vibrant and authentic dialogue.

The Flick is the first play I've seen that truly captures the world of millennials. Other plays, such as Mynx & Savage (Rebecca Gorman O'Neill) and She Kills Monsters (Qui Nguyen), give it a good try by setting the action in comics or role-playing games, but at the core, these plays hold to fairly conventional dramatic structures. The Flick fully enters the millennial world, where relationships are vague, jobs have little promise for advancement, sex is casual, and the world is seen through the kaleidoscope of media—in this case, movies.

The set-up involves three people working for near minimum wage is a movie house that still screens film. The three employees know digital movies will soon replace film, which will render their workplace nothing special. As the story opens, Sam (Brandon Price McDaniel) is training the new employee Avery (Dachary Vann). The third employee we come to know is Rose (Katherine Jackson), the projectionist.

Sam is a Gen Xer, a sad sack who's living at home well into his thirties. He's hoping to one day learn how to run the projector so he can do more than sweep up popcorn and clean the bathrooms. But the years are going by without much promise. He's crushing on Rose, yet it's clear that's a lost cause. Rose is a free spirit who comes to work hungover and hates her roommate.

The point-of-view character is Avery, a 20-year-old black kid. He's shell-shocked from the breakup of his parent's marriage and dropped out of college after a breakdown. The job at the theatre is his attempt to get back on his feet. To complicate things, he seems to be on the spectrum, high functioning, but loaded with sensory issues. This too is in keeping with the world of millennials. Avery is smart, but that doesn't help much as he struggles to cope. Even a job as simple as keeping a dying movie theater clean can be overwhelming. He's also the conscience of the play. While Sam has a vast knowledge of movies, Avery knows their value. This disparity plays out as Avery keeps insisting that Pulp Fiction is the only film of any artistic consequence since the mid 1990s. Sam keeps throwing out other possibilities, such as Avatar or Titanic, but Avery accurately shoots them down.

The drama of the play—and I believe the story has plenty—takes place in small bondings and betrayals that seem almost inconsequential except that the characters are devastated by them. Some are as simple as Rose showing new-guy Avery how to run the projector while Sam has years of seniority and has been waiting for the chance to learn. When Sam finds out Rose has trained Avery, he confronts Avery, saying "I thought you were my friend." Avery counters, "We aren't friends." Expectations and disappointments continue through the story, growing in consequence.

All three actors put in strong performances. McDaniel nails Sam, revealing a semi-tough guy who's sees little hope in life. Jackson delivers an exuberant Rose who toys with Sam's clumsy crush while showing interest in Avery. Vann embodies Avery in all the character's sweetness, smarts, and despair. I saw Vann in Hair last year where he played a street-smart sassy kid. What a range. With The Flick, Vann lets Avery's mixed-up insides spill out in full view. Impressive performance.

Kudos to VJ Liberatori and Dean Squibb for the creative setting. Since the action takes place in a movie house, the cast performs in the Aux Dog's seating area, while the audience sits on the stage. Sound design is by Sara Giering, while Cody Kelien handles the lighting design. Giering also handles the stage manager job with Paul Meeker. Costume designs are by Rhonda Backinoff.

Golding, cast and crew have put together an excellent production. I don't know if it's the intimacy of the Aux Dog's small room or if it's simply that everything clicks with this show, but I found this production more powerful than the production I saw in New York. The characters are more clearly drawn, more desperate, and more compelling.

The Flick, through April 14, 2019, at Aux Dog Theatre, 3011 Monte Vista Blvd. NE, Albuquerque NM. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 pm, and Sundays at 2:00 pm . General admission is $20. Admission for ATG members, seniors, and service members is $18. Student admission is $12. Reserve tickets at or by calling 505-596-0607.