“The Flick,” Annie Baker’s Pulitzer-winning comedic drama about three underpaid workers at a run-down, single-screen movie theater in central Massachusetts, received extremely divided reactions from theatergoers when it premiered Off-Broadway two years ago — to the point where Playwrights Horizons’ artistic director was compelled to defend the play in an awkward email to subscribers.
Many people took issue with the play’s three-hour-plus running time, lack of plot, slow pace and frequently long pauses. For instance, much time is consumed by the characters walking through the movie theater’s rows of red velvet seat as they mop and sweep up popcorn, soda and whatever else was left behind.
But these issues aside, many others (myself included) became strangely transfixed by the play’s gentle texture, compassionate point of view, close-up realism and complex characters, as portrayed by an excellent four-member cast under Sam Gold’s focused direction.
The production has returned for an encore run at the historic Barrow Street Theatre in the West Village, which is actually more fitting for a show that revolves around an old-fashioned venue than the sleek Playwrights Horizons.
It begins with Avery (Aaron Clifton Moten), an introverted college student and movie aficionado, learning the ropes from longtime, 30-something employee Sam (Matthew Maher), who can suddenly become very defensive and touchy. They are joined by Rose (Louisa Krause), a projectionist with a punk look and unpredictable nature.
Their casual conversations and awkward encounters, through seemingly trivial, are quietly revealing, especially thanks to the nuanced, sensitive acting. These loner characters evolve to at least some extent, and the movie theater does too when a new owner comes in and installs a digital projector, much to Avery’s distress.
There’s no denying that “The Flick” requires a good deal of patience from its audience. But by the end, after three hours and fifteen minutes, I was so hooked that I could have lingered even longer.
If you go: “The Flick” plays at the Barrow Street Theatre through Aug. 30. 27 Barrow St., barrowstreettheatre.com.