May 18, 2015

“People always freak out when like, you know, when like art forms move forward,” says Sam, one of the lonely souls working in a run-down Massachusetts movie theater in the wondrous Annie Baker play “The Flick.” That line made me laugh out loud, although it’s hardly a punch line — and the movie whose radicalism is being celebrated happens to be, um, “Avatar.” No, the words resonate because Ms. Baker’s play is a notable case in point: a work of art so strange and fresh that it definitely freaks people out. When this moving drama about the beauty and sadness in small lives was first staged at Playwrights Horizons in 2013, it won ardent admirers (most critics included, and certainly this one) but also irritated some viewers, who found its surface lack of theatrics and quietly observational pacing a trial. Walkouts at intermission — or indeed midact — were not rare. But go figure: “The Flick” went on to win the Pulitzer Prize last year, in a rare case of the award’s going to a play that truly nudges the art form in new directions; more regularly it’s the traditional and easily digestible works that win that trophy. On the strength of such recognition, and the many who responded enthusiastically to the play, it has now been remounted at the Barrow Street Theater, where it opened on Monday night with the sublime original cast intact, once again under the deep-focus direction of Sam Gold.