The last time I saw "theatre noir" I was thoroughly turned off. (It was Mike Bencivenga's Billy and Ray.) In the hands of the talented playwright Leslye Headland (Bachelorette, Assistance), though, the genre is interesting and provocative.
The Layover begins with two strangers on a plane, Shellie (Annie Parisse) and Dex (Adam Rothenberg). Their flight is delayed, and they start chatting. In the next scene, they are in the airport terminal, their flight having been canceled. I noticed how easily they spoke to each other, how easily they told each other what I consider intimate details of their lives. I thought, "How interesting that they can open up like that." I supposed that since they were strangers, with little to no risk of seeing each other again, they felt comfortable being honest, being themselves. I was sure of where this was going.
But then Headland introduced a gear shift (as she called it in a post-show discussion), and the play moved decidedly into noir territory, weaving in and out of unexpected places. I won't say much more about the plot so as to keep it a surprise for you, although my description of Shellie and Dex as strangers on a plane was deliberate.
Through noir tropes, and with the aid of Trip Cullman's incisive direction (the two worked together on Bachelorette and Assistance), Headland explores relationships and gender roles. She presents us with discussions of love and murder (and even a scatological digression), leaving us to draw our own interpretations, to think about how we do or don't relate to these archetypes, and what that means.
Cullman (Significant Other, I'm Gonna Pray for You So Hard) harnesses the talents of his design team—Mark Wendland (scenic); Clint Ramos (costumes); Japhy Weideman (lighting); Fitz Patton (sound); and Jeff Sugg (video)—to draw us in to this world, to help clarify the language and rules of theatre noir.
Actors Quincy Dunn-Baker, Arica Himmel, John Procaccino, and Amelia Workman do fine work as various characters, but it's stars Annie Parisse (Antlia Pneumatica, Clybourne Park) and Adam Rothenberg that make the show. Parisse is captivating. She appears so strong and cunning when we first meet Shellie, and then reveals layers not usually seen in a femme fatale. Rothenberg (and his deep, seductive voice) is entirely appealing as Dex, a confident, no-nonsense professional (an engineer, to be specific) who has to decide what he wants, and at what cost. The Layover is a wholly intriguing play, with plenty of Headland's dark humor providing color and commentary.