Left – Ngaire Dawn Fair and Ben Prendergast. Cover – Kevin Hofbauer and Ngaire Dawn Fair. Photos – Jodie Hutchinson
Annie Baker is that rare thing; a playwright who can make the mundane simultaneously luminous and gut-wrenching. Her play, The Flick – which centres around the workers of a small scale cinema – is full of silences and holes; gaping, crackling moments where the wishes or feelings of one character go entirely ignored by the other.
It's an oddly hypnotic dynamic, and one Nadia Tess stages to marvellous aplomb. Newbie worker and film geek Avery (Kevin Hofbauer), washed-up Sam (Ben Prendergast), and the effusive Rose (Ngaire Dawn Fair) circle one another cautiously. It's clear there's yards and yards of physical and verbal space for them to cross, if only they were brave enough, or knew how. Instead, they compensate with exaggeration and references to the films they've all adored. In the case of Avery, whose difficulty in connecting with people outside of a film-based cultural, despite his general affability, is particularly heartbreaking. Hofbauer plays him with a certain slack-jawed charm; the contrast between this and his occasional stiff-boned, trembling rage, can be alarming.
Ngaire Dawn Fair as Rose is a highlight. She doesn't walk across the stage so much as she zips and slouches. Sporting bright green hair and oversized black clothes as a way to snub the status quo, there's no disguising the effect she has over the boys; she's a veritable fizzing ball of hyper-accentuated mannerisms and impossible charm. Prendergast, as the oldest member of the lot, is also impressive.
Unfortunately, the production suffers from one too many over-loud or over-quiet moment. Given a silence to hold, the actors cast about for something to do -- although this may be chalked up to a case of opening night nerves or the audience's proximity. Similarly, other moments are overplayed or escalate too abruptly; in particular, a monologue of Hofbauer's suffers from an excess of action. It's at its best when the cast forget that they're performing, and simply settle into their roles; they've earned our belief, after all.
Audiences must be warned: The Flick is not easy viewing. At three hours running time, it can feel like overlong, and without a clear end in sight. However, Baker's nuanced, flinty language and a sturdy set of performances make this yet another compelling offer by Red Stitch.
At the best of times, it's poignant, familiar. At the very best, transcendent.
Red Stitch Actors Theatre presents
by Annie Baker
Directed by Nadia Tass
Venue: Red Stitch Theatre, Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda
Dates: April 28 – May 23, 2015