If television's Seinfeld can eke out a successful nine-year run with its theme of nothing, then it's not much of a stretch to believe that Annie Baker's The Flick can keep audiences riveted in spite of its almost three-hour length.
"It could be billed as a play about nothing if you’re not reading it right. It’s just these three people," says Greg Cote, who plays Sam in Horse Head Theatre Co.'s upcoming production of The Flick. "It’s a play about the complexity of relationships amongst the most background people that might be in your life."
Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for drama and the 2013 Obie Award for playwriting, Baker places these underpaid and ordinary workers in a run-down movie theater, cleaning up and attending to one of the last 35-millimeter film projectors remaining in Massachusetts.
"The people that work at the movie theater are going through some heavy shit and they have to do that every day while sweeping popcorn or cleaning the machines," says Cote. "[There's] nothing special about these people."
As the play unfolds, Baker shows us the struggles of the ostracized — being poor, black or female — against the backdrop of Hollywood glamour where everybody is rich and life is perfect. Joining Cote in the production are Avery Padilla (who plays Rose) and Antonio Lasanta (playing Avery), turning rehearsals into a sort of "Who's On First" joke.
For Cote, who wowed us in the closing number of The Catastrophic Theatre's Small Ball earlier this year, this will be his first time on stage with Horse Head; his character lives in his parents' attic and, while not necessarily poor, has to work. We caught Padilla earlier this year in Obsidian Theater's Wanda, Daisy And The Great Rapture. Lasanta is fairly new to Houston audiences but already has several credits under his belt at the University of Houston: Mr. Marmalade, Man and Superman and Animal Farm.
Billed as a dramatic comedy, Cote says there are definitely some heavy moments. "But overall people will leave a little lighter. It's a comedy in a way that life is a comedy. Life is funny, not always knee-slapper funny but, 'Oh man, I guess that's happening now' funny," says Cote.
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At around 100 minutes for the first act and 70 minutes for the second, Baker's writing is able to hold audiences rapt because her dialogue is so authentic. "It has been words that are really easy to put in my head because it sounds like how people talk, it sounds like human speech, which even some brilliant writers can’t nail," says Cote. "She gets to really emotional moments without having to get super saccharine."
Jacey Little, Horse Head's artistic director, is directing. "Jacey’s leaving a lot of room for our own interpretation. It’s going to bring a lot of life for a script that is somber at times, but Jacey is really allowing us to interject some energy and forward motion making this a really interesting version of the production," says Cote.
This will be the first time that Horse Head has returned to Houston Warehouse Studios since 2017's presentation of The Sonic Life of a Giant Tortoise. Located in the historic Near Northside neighborhood, the building is almost 100 years old and will be transformed into run-down movie theater by Torsten Louis (Stages' My Mañana Comes, Main Street's The Book of Will and Opera in the Heights' The Magic Flute). Costumes are by Clair Hummel (Rec Room's Hansel and Gretel).
Performances of The Flick are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. November 30 and December 1, 6-8, 10, 13-15 at Houston Warehouse Studios, 1506 Lorraine, 832-786-0944, horseheadtheatre.org, $15 to $45. (December 10 is pay what you can.)