Annie Baker's Play about Cinema is really a Love Letter to Theatre

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Nothing that happens in the Austro-British Society is left to chance. Everything that happens weaves into a wonderful fabric of exclusive events. Membership has its privilege, I wrote in December last year, when describing our year-end Pre-Christmas Party at the British Embassy.

Amongst the 180 privileged members were two who are the significant link to last night’s play “The Flick” in Theater Drachengasse: Joanna Godwin-Seidl, the Director, Actor and Producer and Daniel Annoh from London, also an Actor, Writer and Director who plays Avery, an Afro-American. Joanna was delighted in December to have found Daniel for this play after a considerable and nerve wracking search and the joy showed as they danced and danced to the music of Gary Howard ……

Now imagine yourself walking into the wrong auditorium at a multiplex and finding that, although all the seats were empty, a film was playing. There is something eerie and disconcerting about it, isn’t it? Why is the movie playing to a deserted room? Has the entire audience stood up and left? It feels like stumbling across the Mary Celeste.

It makes you think of how one of the significant differences between film and theatre is the nature of the audience. In the theatre, our presence and interaction is necessary. We make every performance different; the material may be the same but we help to shape it. If a theatre entirely emptied during a performance, it is unlikely that the show would go on. Yet in the digital age, when not even a projectionist is required, a film can continue to play on regardless, unchanged even in the absence of the human eye.

I thought about this while watching Annie Baker’s stupendous play “The Flick”, which is set in an ailing cinema in Massachusetts. It plays cleverly with the idea that a film takes us completely out of ourselves. It also raises questions about reproduction and authenticity and the nature of the live and lived experiences.

There is a moment towards the end when the latest recruit to the staff of the cinema, Syklar played by Jack Midgley (Avery having previously been not unexpectedly fired as the black fall guy over the ticket scam) is being shown by old hand Sam how to clear the auditorium of spilled popcorn and other detritus after a movie. The youngster suddenly stops and moves down the aisle to the screen – invisible to us in the theatre audience – and raises his hand to it. For a moment, it feels as if he is going to reach out and break the fourth wall and touch us. Sam asks the boy what he’s doing and he replies: “I always have this urge to touch it, don’t you?”
“No,” says Sam incredulously.

Meeting the magnificent cast, Daniel Annoh, Jason Cloud and Denise Teipel together with the Director, the ever effervescent Joanna Godwin-Seidl (haven’t I called her that already last year?), was a privilege, who patiently answered the many questions put by our interested members as always expertly moderated by our President Prof Dr Kurt Tiroch. Joanna gave the story a slight political slant of today’s America: Sam, an uneducated white American male whose parents had spent all their money on their “retarded” son thus blocking Sam from any higher education. Therefore mopping the floor in a cinema will be his life. Rose is educated but has a $20,000 student loan to pay off and Avery comes from a black middle class family whose father is well to do but not rich.

This is already my sixth report from the Theater Drachengasse!. What shall I say to all those who have turned down last night’s invitation? You missed a superb performance and great theatre. On top of the excellent hospitality, a large variety of tasty canapés and plenty of Hochriegl sekt, all courtesy Café Ministerium!

As we filed out close to midnight we could hear the sound of faint splashes in the distance. They were the lemmings jumping off the White Cliffs of Dover. A new dawn a new day: Brexit Groundhog Day is here again!

Wolfgang Geissler 

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