The original Ben-Hur runs 193 minutes. Lawrence of Arabia clocks in at 222. By cinematic standards The Flick¸ the newest from the Arts Club Theatre Company, is barely pushing the envelope. For theatre though, at a runtime of 195 minutes – a full three and quarter hours for those that can’t do the math – it is downright epic.
Not that theatrical productions in the 3+ hour range are unheard of (as written, Hamlet can take that and more), but it is an experience few Vancouver audiences have seen. Until now.
Set in in a rundown movie palace in Massachusetts, The Flick follows three underpaid movie ushers as they do the humdrum and tedious labor necessary to keep it running. Considered a “comedy of the mundane”, Baker’s writing has been described as understated, and often sparse.
“Because of Annie Baker’s beautiful obsession with writing dramas in real time, she allows the actors an opportunity not only to explore the silence that can sometimes fill moments with huge emotion, but also to afford the possibility for a hyper naturalism that harkens back to the birth of modern theatre,” says director Dean Paul Gibson. “This sensibility has been beautifully captured in this poetic and contemporary story.”
Despite its length, The Flick has received generally good notices since it premiered Off-Broadway in 2013. But it has not been immune to controversy. Reactions to its original run at New York’s Playwrights Horizons became so polarized that the New York Times reported on artistic director Tim Sanford’s letter to subscribers, explaining his decision to produce the play.
In his letter, Sanford claims he and director Sam Gold did not originally know the play would run three hours. In the Arts Club Theatre Company production, its length is acknowledged as part of the company’s media release.
The Flick’s running time is also crucial to maintaining the show’s hyper-realism. The National Theatre (London) had a running time of 3 hours and 15 minutes, and Arts Club audiences can expect the Granville Island Stage production to have a similar duration.
Length aside, in order to achieve the play’s “heightened realism”, set designer Lauchlin Johnston has ensured all the stage elements are authentic, sourcing items that have outlived their time in Vancouver cinemas.
“We inherited our 74 onstage seats from The Cinematheque this summer and were lucky enough to borrow one of the Ridge Theatre’s original 35mm film projectors from VIFF’s [Vancouver International Film Festival] collection,” says Johnston.
Whether audiences will find the Arts Club production of The Flick as polarizing as the original Off-Broadway run remains to be seen. But one supposes pushing limits is what live theatre should really be all about.
At least the Arts Club’s artistic director Bill Millerd didn’t program Yes Thank You Universe – A Tale of Two Atttitudes. That show, which currently holds the Guinness world record for longest play, clocks in at a bum-numb 24 hours, 20 minutes and 2 seconds. Exactly.
The Flick plays the Arts Club Theatre Company’s Granville Island Stage from September 29 to October 29. Visit https://artsclub.com for tickets and information.