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A CurtainUp Review
The Layover

Chivalry is not dead. It's just got a cramp. — Shellie, during the zinger peppered conversation started up with her seatmate as they wait to hear why their New York bound plane has been delayed..

I haven't celebrated New Years Eve since 2000. I'll show up for a millennia. Sure. Just in case we got a rapture on our hands. But New Year's Eve is and always will be a criminals' holiday.— Arno, the classic private eye who just about steals the show during The Layover's penultimate scene.

Annie Parisse and Adam Rothenberg (Photo by Joan Marcus)
The getting-to-know-you first scene between Shellie (Annie Parisse) and Dex (Adam Rothenberg) and the penultimate one between Dex and the seen-it-all private eye Arno(Quincy Dunn-Baker) are the highlights of Patricia Highsmith's noir-ish play, The Layover. Oops. . .scratch that. Patricia Highsmith has been dead since 1995. Since even much admired writers of noir-ish fiction like Highsmith never figured out a way to adapt their works for the stage from the great beyond, the by-line for< i> Layover belongs to Leslye Headland. Not that her play is a straight page to stage adaptation of Strangers On the Train, one of one of Highsmith's best known novels that was even better known as a film. If that were the case, Headland would probably has called it Strangers on a Plane.

Instead, what Ms. Headland has done is to apply her knack for smart and often funny dialogue to her own twisty Strangers In the Train spin-off as a way to combine a noir-comedy and a darker drama exploring the difficulties people have in really getting to know and understand each other or themselves. She cleverly introduces mentions of the famous Highsmith story.

The tie-in to Highsmith is timely as well as clever since the work of this queen of crime dramas has been riding a new wave of popularity since the W.W. Norton publishing company re-issued all her books; also last year's stunning film Carol, named for the main character in her Lesbian novel The Price of Salt.

I wish I could report that Headland's combination of the thriller and guy-meets-girl comedy genre with a very dark look at the often troubling aftermath of lies and self-deception lived up to its inspirational source. Though Layover does indeed do so during those above mentioned scenes, it becomes flat-footed once the initial interchanges predictably evolve from strangers-on-the-plane chatter into a bedroom scene. It does regain its footing at the tense beginning of the final scene, but not long enough to avoid a too contrived, unsatisfying crash landing.

Here's the set-up that has us following Shellie and Dex's Thanksgiving meeting as seatmates in a Chicago to New York plane through six scenes in just 90 minutes: He's a good looking suit and tie guy; she's more casually dressed, but also attractive. The initially hostile conversation warms up when the flight is canceled and the passengers are put up in a hotel. If we're to believe what Shellie and Dex tell each other, she's 35, a happily single crime fiction teacher at Hunter College. He's 42, an engineer, engaged but somewhat problematically so. But there are plenty of easy to spot, sly little hints to turn up our skeptics' antennas about the information being exchanged.

Our skepticism is ultra realistically confirmed in the play's mid section that show us what happens after that Thanksgiving layover. Shellie's situation with her family and Dex's with his fianceé and her young daughter play out simultaneously. This brings the four other cast members into the picture: Amelia Workman and Arica Himmel as Andrea, the fianceé and the spoiled young Lily . . . John Procaccino as Fred, her father and Quincy Dunn-Baker as Kevin, her husband (Clearly Shellie's self representation most potently exemplifies how people often present themselves to strangers as they'd like to be rather than what they are.

The simultaneously staged scenes do allow Shellie and Dex to face each other from their real worlds often enough to make it clear that one night stands aren't always so easy to forget. However, despite Trip Cullman's sturdy direction, this departure from two strangers connecting and following through on their sexual attraction to each other, detracts from the mood instead of being all that interestingly revealing.

That said, the entire cast is outstanding, especially Annie Parisse and Adam Rothenberg and Quincy Dunn-Baker in his second role as Arno, the gumshoe. (Note that as of 9/06 Maria Dizzia will take over as Shellie since Parisse is slated to begin filming a Netflix show). Besides the excellent performance there's the scenic and video design by Marc Wendland and Jeff Sugg to make Layover worth seeing. Wendland has ingeniously backed the wide stage with a row of large monitors that change content again and again — from a fast moving panorama of an airport's runway at the beginning and finally to Sugg's flashing images of 1940s and 1950s crime diva stars. Wendland, Suggs, and the entire entire crafts team are the real scene stealers here.

This is Curtainup's third encounter with team Headland and Cullman. Bachelorette premiered at 2nd Stage's uptown venue, Assistance at Playwrights Horizon

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The Layover by Leslye Headland
Directed by Trip Cullman
Cast Quincy Dunn-Baker (Kevin/Arno), Arica Himmel (Lily), Annie Parisse (Shellie), John Procaccino (Fred), Adam Rothenberg (Dex), Amelia Workman (Andrea/Mya)
Runtime 1 hr. and 30 min.
Second Stage Theatre 305 W. 43rd St.212-246-4422
From 8/09/16; opened 8/25/16; closing 9/18/16
For performance schedule see 2nd Stage website at
Reviewed by Elyse sommer 8/30/16 press performance

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