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Keeping It Reel

‘The Flick’ goes behind the scenes—literally—to explore sexuality, race, and class.

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Lines of sexuality are blurred to partly cloudy in The Flick, Annie Baker’s 2014 Pulitzer Prize-winning play that runs through December 15 at Houston Warehouse Studios at 1506 Lorraine Street.

The show’s three main characters are coworkers in a falling-apart, second-run cinema that’s on the brink of closing—the sexually magnetic Rose, 24, who is presumed to be a lesbian; 35-year-old Sam, a shaved-headed “incel”; and nerdy Avery, 20, who could be classified as asexual. When Rose asks Avery whether he fantasizes about guys, he deflects the question.

“Avery is less interested in people than films, and doesn’t feel like he has a place on the sexual spectrum,” says the production’s dramaturg, Leah Short, who is bisexual. “He feels wrong about that, but after a confusing and unsuccessful sexual encounter, he and Rose bond over their shared vulnerabilities about sexuality.”

Rose is portrayed by Avery Padilla, while the show’s Avery character is played by Antonio Lasanta. Greg Cote co-stars as Sam, a slacker Boston Red Sox fan (the play is set in Worcester County, Massachusetts in the summer of 2012). As they mop the theater floor and spool the projector, their individual struggles with being black, poor, and female play out against the glittery backdrop of Hollywood magic.

“I am really happy, as an LGBTQ artist, to be working on this play that, in the world of queer stories, normalizes the fluidity and naturally broad spectrum of sexuality,” Short says. “A lot of time, it seems like we see LGBTQ characters being portrayed in extremes of dysfunction or constantly dangerous situations. This script doesn’t rely on that. Just like in real life, sexuality is an inherent part of the play’s characters, and while it colors their relationships, it doesn’t drive the extremes of the narrative.”

This regional premiere of The Flick completes the ninth season of Houston’s edgy Horse Head Theatre Company, according to artistic director Jacey Little.

Per the script, “The set is the raked movie-theater [auditorium], 10 to 15 rows of red seats with a dingy carpeted aisle running up the center. We, the theater audience, are the movie screen. The beam of light from the projector radiates out over our heads.

“We are building the ‘rundown movie theater’ inside a 100-year-old studio space” in East Houston, Little says.

“You are going to feel like you are walking into the movie theater where the characters work, down to the 35-millimeter projector that Rose has to work,” Padilla says. “It is immersive theater. You hear the clicking sound of the projector. We even have theater seats.”

Short says that both she and Padilla, in table readings of the script, discussed with Little how they relate to the character of Rose.

“Rose has been with men and women but doesn’t like the term ‘bisexual,’” Short explains. “We discussed that the term ‘bisexuality’ really comes with a lot of negative baggage; it is just an oversimplifying label to say that your sexuality is fluid. You fall in love with a person, not an idea of what their genitals might be like.”

In press material, Horse Head Theatre notes that Baker calls the underpaid Rose, Avery, and Sam “three of the great ‘Others’ of American cinema, all of them victim to extreme stereotypes. I wanted these people to be quietly (maybe even unconsciously) fighting against their respective pigeonholes. I also grew up knowing lower-middle-class Jews, hyper-educated black people, and women who wear baggy clothes and no makeup, and yet it is so rare to encounter any of those people in plays and movies. It feels like those people are forced to wander outside of and on the periphery of plays and movies. So I literalized that—they’re cleaning up everyone else’s crap after the movie is over.”

What: The Flick
When: November 30–December 15
Where: Houston Warehouse Studios, 1506 Lorraine St.
Tickets/more info: HorseheadTheatre.org

This article appears in the December 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.

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Don Maines

Donalevan Maines is a regular contributor to OutSmart Magazine.
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