The 35-millimeter projector throws a beam of light onto the audience, as if the audience members are the screen upon which the story about to unfold is being projected. It is a powerful metaphor. The projector goes dark and is silent, and the lights come up on a seedy and tired movie theater with torn and faded seats and the detritus of popcorn and candy wrappers strewn across the floor. Enter Sam (Nael Nacer) and trainee Avery (Marc Pierre). For the next few minutes, they sweep in almost total silence, with Sam occasionally pointing out to Avery some of the finer points of this thankless job. Often the only sounds heard are the sweeping of the broom over the sticky linoleum floor, and the rustle of audience members shifting in their seas, wondering when the "action" will begin.
Watching this play by Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Annie Baker is a lot like attending a baseball game. To the casual observer, there are a lot of dead minutes between the action when the pitcher hurls the ball toward home plate and the batter tries to hit it, and fielders try to snag it. To the trained eye, there are subtle balletic movements happening even between pitches. Fielders shift position as the situation dictates, the third base coach flashes signs, the catcher moves slightly to the right anticipating the slider that he has called for. For true baseball aficionados, it is the deliberate pace of the game that is part of the charm of the sport. Ms. Baker forces the audience to adjust to her rhythms, to notice what is happening in the hesitations and the moments of silence - a glance, a shrug, a wave of the hand, a more energetic than normal sweep of the broom across the floor to indicate frustration. Like any great artist, she uses negative space to complete the picture she is creating.
She seems to be saying in setting the pace that she has: "Attention must be paid"! These three young people are as worthy of our attention as was Willy Loman in "Death of a Salesman." In this play, Annie Baker is asking us to consider that the ordinary work of three ordinary people - underpaid cinema employees - is worthy of our attention and consideration. She throws a light on the significance of their ordinary existence and search for identity and meaning in a theater that is a technological dinosaur, holding out against the onslaught of digital projection that is becoming the film industry standard. A subtext of this play is the author's love for classic 35-millimeter film imagery. While showing us the quotidian lives of this trio of workers, she is also sending a love letter to traditional film technology and the great movies of the past. This love letter takes the form of an ongoing game of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" being played between film buffs Sam and Avery. Rose (Melissa Jesser), who claims not to care about movies, is a frequent observer of these bouts, matching wits between Sam and Avery as they list some of the great classic films and the actors who starred in them
Under the keen direction of Bridget Kathleen O'Leary, this trio of actors bring Sam, Avery and Rose to life in a fascinating way. Their work is aided by the fine set design of Courtney Nelson, Costumes by Lara Jardullo, Lighting by Russ Swift and Sound by David Remedios. The action of the play is minimal. Much like the underappreciated Woody Allen film, "Interiors," the significant developments happen in the minds and hearts of each character and in their moments of one-on-one interaction and attempts to connect on a human level. Sam has a crush on projectionist Rose, and also aspires to be trained to run the projector. Rose dismisses and ignores him, and complications ensue when she trains Avery as her replacement, ignoring Sam's "seniority." A ham-handed attempt by Rose to engage Avery romantically leads to mutual embarrassment. Limits of friendship and loyalty are tested when the new owner of the theater uncovers a plot that the employees have seen as a tradition of skimming some cash off the top of the daily receipts as a sort of tip.
|Marc Pierre as Avery|
Melissa Jesser as Rose
Nael Nacer as Sam
by Annie Baker
Through September 12
The three principals, aided by two brief character appearances by James Wechsler, are powerful in their portrayals of these struggling wage earners. Mr. Nacer shows great range, in a character that is vastly different from those he has played in the past. His physical manifestation of Sam's hopelessness, his verbal quirks, his working class Massachusetts accent, his shaved head and backwards Red Sox cap all serve to show us an ordinary guy whom life seems to be passing by. It is a powerful performance that should be seen and applauded. A particularly memorable moment of his performance is the scene in which he confesses to Rose his love for her, but he cannot look at her, even when she demands that he do so.
Equally strong is Marc Pierre, the somewhat nerdy college student who needs this job to pay for school, but who also loves the classic films, and would not want to work in one of the now predominant digital cinemas. Mr. Pierre uses to good effect the black frame glasses behind which he hides for much of the play. He initially sets himself apart from Sam and Rose by not wanting to participate in the cash skimming scheme of taking "dinner money," but eventually succumbs to their peer pressure, much to his later regret.
Ms. Jesser as Rose is a complex assortment of bored girl with torn jeans and green streaks in her hair, a person who sees herself as not worth getting to know, but also someone who seeks to hang out with and seduce Avery. She shines most strongly in the powerful scene in which she responds to Sam's profession of love, verbally assaulting him for his failure to react to her in a truly human way.
Ms. Baker is to be praised for inviting us to examine and to appreciate the ordinary things in life - simple people worthy of our notice and reflection. This is a fine production of a brilliant play. It can be seen this weekend and through September 12.
Gloucester Stage Website