Story: Sam is showing Avery the ropes at The Flick, a rundown cinema in Worcester County, Massachusetts. They bring a couple of trash receptacles into the theater after each showing of a film has been completed and sweep up stale popcorn, candy bar wrappers and other garbage off the floor.

The sticky remnants of spilled soda are the worst, requiring a special treatment which Sam recommends to his novice associate. A higher grade of cleaning also is required for the bathrooms, an especially queasy location for Avery, who is prone to vomiting at the sight of human feces.

Sam is a ‘pro’ at this work, but the pay is menial and the 30-something has been forced to move back home with his parents. Avery wants to make a good impression on the job, which he hopes is a worthwhile experience while he’s back from college. He also happens to be an avid movie aficionado, quick to solve film riddles posed by Sam.

Avery asks about the projector, a sore subject with Sam because Rose, his junior at the theater by five months, is now running the projector as well as cleaning up the cinema. Sam is miffed about that, but he still participates with Rose in their daily scam of the owner, splitting “meal money” that they garner by short-changing the number of tickets they report sold for each showing.

It’s a slow job in an antiquated location, but that might change quickly with the news that the owner is thinking about selling his independent house to a chain operation. Avery is rattled because that might mean the replacement of celluloid film with digital, which he abhors with a passion.

Beyond the personal problems of Sam, Avery and the 20-something Rose, who has a checkered love life and past of her own, can The Flick, the last of the old-time cinemas, be saved from inevitable and impersonal progress?

Highlights: R-S Theatrics concludes its 2017 season with a pleasant if languid production of this creaky Pulitzer Prize-winning work by Annie Baker. Director Joe Hanrahan coaxes agreeable performances from his quartet of players to extract what he can from the sweet and often humorous tale.

Other Info: How Baker won a Pulitzer Prize in 2014 for The Flick is one of the wonders of the ages. Perhaps the judges were looking specifically for a two-act, three-hour work that takes a long time to say very little.

In any event, The Flick succeeds not on plot but on character development. As mentioned, there’s a sweet core to Baker’s tale about three young people going nowhere fast but still essentially holding onto the carousel of life, getting what satisfaction they can along the circuitous way.

Given the repetitive nature of the story, with the characters given relatively little to do save sweep the aisles ad infinitem, it’s actually surprising how well Chuck Winning, Jaz Tucker, Jennelle Gilreath and Tyson Cole shape their roles.

All of the characters have a degree of dignity which the performers find and hone with sympathy. There’s an especially poignant scene in Act II which can catch an audience by surprise, one that’s played with pathos and affecting honesty by Winning as the long-suffering and lonely Sam.

It serves as one of the two highlights of the show, paired with Tucker’s stunning delivery of lines toward the work’s climax, as his portrayal of the buttoned-down, pent-up Avery gives a glimpse into the stoic young man’s own quiet fury.

Gilreath finds the impulsive, carefree nature of Rose while also providing insight into the young woman’s muddled life story. Cole completes the quartet with a pair of minor roles, as a sleeping patron and as gregarious newcomer Skylar, who greets Sam’s advice with amiable if vacuous responses.

Baker might easily have accomplished as much with The Flick in two hours instead of three, but it’s to director Hanrahan’s and his cast’s credit that they make this presentation work as well as it does. These people may be down on their luck and on the other side of success, but they approach life with optimism and for the most part shun self-pity.

Keller Ryan’s scenic design is pretty much a mirror image of the seats on the audience side of the action, paired with a back room for the projector. Brittanie Gunn lights it satisfactorily, while costume designer Sarah Porter adds a nice touch to the players’ utilitarian uniforms with a Red Sox cap for Sam. It’s also great fun identifying musical scores and dialogue from various movies used in Mark Kelley’s captivating sound design.

It’s interesting that Baker sets The Flick in Massachusetts, where Henry David Thoreau wrote that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation” while living alone near Walden Pond in the 19th century. One wonders if a contemporary Thoreau would have matched wits with Sam and Avery in their clever movie game. He certainly would have understood their philosophy.

Play: The Flick

Company: R-S Theatrics

Venue: Kranzberg Arts Center, 501 North Grand at Olive

Dates: December 15, 16, 17, 22, 23

Tickets: $15-$25; contact 252-8812, 534-1111 or metrotix.com

Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.

Photos courtesy of Michael Young

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