By Tulis McCall

I suppose the title might have been a tip-off.  The Layover now at Signature Theatre, starts off with just that.  Snowstorm grounds plane, and you think you have been transported to Hell.  Do not pass GO.  Do not collect $200.

Layover at Second Stage Annie Parisse and Adam Rothenberg; Photo by Joan Marcus

Layover at Second Stage Annie Parisse and Adam Rothenberg; Photo by Joan Marcus

Fortunately for Shellie (Annie Parisse) and Dex (Adam Rothenberg) – and these actors are excellent –  this Layover has an emphasis on the first syllable.  With a lovely hotel room and mini-bar thrown in for good measure.  Who says Chicago doesn’t know how to behave in a snowstorm?

In a ripping first scene, Shellie and Dex thrust and parry.  He, fumbling for the right words to seduce her in sprite of his upcoming marriage, and she enjoying her intellectual superiority and knowledge of one of the three important contributions made by the US of A to civilization: the crime novel (the other two being Jazz and the 12-Step Program).  She is a professor at Hunter College and he is an urban engineer recently returned from building an island for a rich sheikh.

Or are they?  Several intriguing scenes later we find out they are not.  Exactly.  He IS an engineer but the engagement thing is not working out so well.  She is a hairdresser and cleaning woman who lives not in New York, but Illinois.  Why she was on a plane from Chicago to NYC escaped me.

As I said the first half of this play is filled with intrigue.  Once Shellie and Dex turn up in their own lives, the intrigue falls flat as a pancake.  Well, not entirely.  They exchange memories and thought patterns to rival a Vulcan mind meld, and Trip Cullum’s direction is especially effective here as is the extraordinary set by Mark Wendland.  Dex and Shellie have imprinted on one another big time, but their real lives are pesky reminders to which they cling like flies on fly-paper.  A fine trio of actors fills in the dead space with gusto and grace.  Quincy Dunn-Baker, Arica Himmel, John Procaccino, and Amelia Workman sparkle – especially when Headland leads them out on a limb or two.

As a matter of fact, out on a limb is where Leslye Headland shines.  Two not so normal people meet, and in that meeting we become intimately involved.  The script, instead of allowing the two of them to be enough and dropping down a few leagues into their individual seas, spreads the story so wide that it is difficult to keep track of the proceedings.  Those pesky facts keep getting in the way.  Why does he stay in a loveless relationship?  Where went her hutzpah that was so visible on that plane?  And what was she there to begin with?

Finally, inevitably, the two reunite.  It is here that the play crumbles in front of our eyes.  Instead of being satisfied that these two people are already complicated enough and that the outcome is anything but certain, Ms. Headland tosses in layers of plot twists that spin out of control and take way too long to become so.  We are left exhausted and orphaned.  And not believing 99% of what we just saw.

Credits Written by Leslye Headland; Directed by Trip Cullman

Cast Quincy Dunn-Baker, Arica Himmel, Annie Parisse (thru 9/4), Maria Dizzia (starting 9/6), John Procaccino, Adam Rothenberg and Amelia Workman

Sets, Mark Wendland; costumes, Clint Ramos; lighting, Japhy Weideman; sound, Fitz Patton; video, Jeff Sugg; fight director, Thomas Schall; production stage manager, Lori Ann Zepp.