Going into “The Layover,” I mistakenly thought it was a romantic comedy. I mislabeled “The Layover” in my mind because its advertising has a cheerful aesthetic and after I saw playwright Leslye Headland’s name attached (“Sleeping with Other People,” “Bachelorette,” “Russian Doll”) I thought, “Ooooh, sexy dark comedy! Sign me up.” This is not the production’s fault, but I definitely went into the Midwest premiere of Headland’s neo-noir play with the wrong mindset.
“The Layover” does have romance and some comedy but it is nowhere near a romantic comedy. Billed as a “sexy psychological thriller,” the story begins with the not-so-meet-cute of Shellie and Dex, two holiday travelers with unhappy but undisclosed home lives. The fantasy of a one-night stand bleeds into their realities and the audience can see the danger in treating daydreams as truth. Dex, played by Michael Vizzi (giving off major Michael Fassbender “Shame” energy), is your typical “good guy” who uses his loneliness to justify poor choices. Shellie (Alison Plott) is anxious, high-strung, and… not entirely as she appears.
The namesake layover has the two stranded at an airport, flirting over how to commit the perfect murder, although it’s really their circumstances and attachments that they wish to dispatch. We all people-watch and imagine the private lives of strangers, but “The Layover” is a warning not to build up people so high in our minds that they can’t possibly meet our expectations. Plott and Vizzi do a proficient job leading the small cast with reciprocal chemistry and committed physicality. But it’s two of the multifaceted supporting characters that invite you into their world. Emma Jo Boyden and Joshua J. Volkers adjust their delivery and mannerisms to demonstrate the arrival of each new character, rather than rely on costume and scene changes.
Despite largely competent performances and a thought-provoking script, the rest of the production is incomplete. A unified concept is observable within the ebb-and-flow pacing between story lines and a few striking stage pictures, but falls out of the sky with details that discourage you from accepting the presented reality. I’m all for sets that can be used for different purposes, but they still need to be convincing. Airplane seats that look like medieval torture restraints and hotel rooms that look like shitty Airbnbs aren’t inventive, they’re inadequate. Conversely, the costuming (by Meagan Beattie) did a wonderful job of being authentic and instructive without lapsing into uniformity.
The design and overall structure were distracting, but there were also specific scenes that stopped “The Layover” from reaching its full potential. A hospital scene between two characters that could’ve been a heartwarming, intimate discourse was tedious and drawn out. One character’s monologue could’ve shared insight but was instead just that, a monologue, without genuine connection to their scene partner or themselves. I’ll admit that I came into “The Layover” with a misguided attitude, but leaving the theater my outlook was frustrated and dissatisfied, as if I had been the one who suffered the layover. (Hayley Osborn)
The Comrades at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 North Lincoln, (773)404-7336, the-comrades.com, $10. Through March 22.