On most movie nights, the show’s over when the credits roll. In “The Flick,” that moment is just the beginning.
Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play, which opened last week in an absorbing new production by Berkeley’s Shotgun Players, focuses on three employees of a shabby suburban theater.
Sam (Chris Ginesi), the amiable but ambitionless leader of this low-level crew, is training new hire Avery (Justin Howard) in the decidedly un-glamorous work of cleaning the theater’s floor between shows, while Rose (Ari Rampy) works as projectionist in an upstairs booth.
There’s a surprising amount of tension in this everyday setup, and director Jon Tracy mines it with affecting results. As the guys sweep and mop, clearing the floor of popcorn, candy wrappers — and other, grosser, detritus left behind — Baker’s play acquires unexpected layers of dramatic depth and intensity.
Aside from the inevitable love triangle — Sam is clearly attracted to Rose, but she appears drawn to Avery — secrets and shifting loyalties pose a threat to their already meager livelihoods.
Rumor has it that the theater’s owner is about to modernize, scrapping the aged film projector and converting to digital. Rose is skimming from the box office proceeds, dividing it three ways and calling it “dinner money.”
Race and class are factors – Avery, who is African-American, is on break from college, where his dad’s a professor, and may not need the job as much as the other two, although, in a solo scene on the phone with his therapist, he reveals a startling level of anxiety.
Amid the stress of uncertainty, Baker weaves in some very funny episodes. To pass the time, Sam and Avery play a version of “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon,” hilariously speeding through unlikely connections between actors in obscure roles. When Sam calls “Avatar” a great film, Avery sputters a horrified “words fail me.” Rose’s reading of each character’s horoscope reveals a not-so-hidden agenda; Sam tells an epic story about a bag of tamales left on a movie house floor.
The cast veers between these scenes with a high degree of emotional precision. Ginesi makes Sam’s brooding a palpable thing and his unexpected moments of pleasure seem like rewards.
Howard’s nerdy Avery, comically triggered by a wide range of human physicality, gradually reveals his inner core. In Rampy’s performance, Rose’s hyperactive facade yields to surprising moments of need. Rob Dario shines in two tiny but essential roles.
Throughout, Tracy’s production has a wonderfully immediate feel. The audience, placed where the big screen would be, looks out at the projection booth and rows of theater seats below.
Randy Wong-Westbrooke’s set, Kurt Landisman’s lighting, and excellent sound and projections by Kris Barrera, lend it all a heightened realism – so much so that, as the guys sweep, you might be tempted to yell “You missed a spot!”
But it’s the characters, whose lives stand in sharp relief to the glamour of the films they love, who keep the story moving. “The Flick” doesn’t fall back on happy endings; these three don’t ride into a colorful sunset. That just makes their exits more memorable.
Presented by Shotgun Players
Where: Ashby Stage, 1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley
When: 7 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays; extended through Oct. 6
Tickets: $7 to $40
Contact: (510) 841-6500, www.shotgunplayers.org