Susan Granger’s review of “The Layover” (Second Stage/Off-Broadway Sept., 2016)
It’s Thanksgiving and an American Airlines flight is delayed on the runway at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. So two business-class passengers, seated next to one-another, start a casual conversation that soon evolves into snappy, erotic bantering.
Based in San Diego, Dexter “Dex” Reidman (Adam Rothenberg) is a somewhat neurotic engineer, headed to New York to spend the holiday with his fiancée. Shellie Sayers (Annie Parisse) is a professor of American crime fiction at Hunter College – and happily unattached.
“I absolutely lust for loneliness,” she informs him.
When a snowstorm forces the flight’s cancellation, it’s clear that Dex and Shellie are destined for a one-night stand at the Marriott. Before that, however, they stop for cocktails at the hotel bar, where Shellie reveals that her favorite mystery novels are Patricia Highsmith’s “Strangers on a Train,” “The Talented Mr. Ripley” and “Edith’s Diary” – all revolving around murder and fabricating false identities.
Not surprisingly, it’s soon discovered that Dex is none too happy about his upcoming wedding, particularly since his wife-to-be, Andrea (Amelia Workman), is suspicious and controlling.
On the other hand, Shellie is neither ‘happy’ nor ‘unattached.’ She’s very much married to deadbeat Kevin (Quincy Dunn-Baker), living with him and her epileptic father Fred (John Procaccino), who is confined to a wheelchair. Instead of teaching, she does janitorial work and cuts hair.
Perhaps the play’s most telling moment comes when Shellie subsequently confesses her illicit assignation to Fred, who observes, “You either steal someone else’s life – or you stay put.”
Acclaimed for her 2010 comedy “Bachelorette,” playwright Leslye Headland turns her acerbic wit toward the darker side with this somewhat contrived, psychological drama, delving into infidelity and its unanticipated consequences.
Adroitly directed by Trip Cullman, both Annie Parisse and Adam Rothenberg are convincing and compelling, aided in great part by recognizable flickering film-noir faces (Humphrey Bogart, Mary Astor, Lisabeth Scott, Ruth Roman, Alan Ladd, Glenn Ford), supplied by video designer Jeff Sugg,
Mark Wendland’s set features translucent screens, creating images of the plane’s interior, along with the airport food court and lounge, along with their hotel room, subtly enhanced by Japhy Weideman’s lighting.
“The Layover” plays through Sept. 18 at the Second Stage Theater at 305 West 43rd Street.