Thursday, February 5, 2009



By Jeffrey Sweet. Directed by Sandy Shinner. Artistic New Directions at the 78th Street Theatre Lab. (CLOSED)

The first New York production of Jeffrey Sweet's 1998 play Flyovers is met with tepid reviews, in large part due to what critics see as the inauthenticity of the plot, about a big-city film critic returning to his small hometown to confront the bully who tormented him in high school. But reviews praise the actors, notably Richard Kind and Michelle Pawk, for rising above the play's flaws to give performances worth seeing, especially in the tiny confines of 78th Street Theatre.

Backstage A-
(Karl Levett) The play comes from Chicago, where it was a long-playing success. That's not surprising, as the story cleverly employs that worn but crowd-pleasing theme of the worm that turns, assisted by an oft-tried device, characters well-oiled with alcohol. While Sweet is not above melodramatic flourishes, he demonstrates his dexterity in twisting these into a nimble finale that includes a most unlikely romance. Sweet also has a neat hand with characterization: If his hometown losers sometimes seem astutely articulate in their distress, they do make for diverting company. Briskly directed by Sandy Shinner, the play's 90 intermissionless minutes skip along in the hands of the experienced, first-rate cast. Kind, en garde but glowing with good intentions, is the play's calm and clever center; Geer's bully is an intriguing, contemporary villain; Bullock touches as the addled wife; and Pawk mixes hardheaded reality and natural warmth to create a genuinely likable character.

Theatermania B
(Adam R. Perlman) As sports fans know, a team that's lackluster on paper might be able to pull off the upset. The same is true in theater, where an uninspired set-up -- like the one provided by Jeffrey Sweet's Flyovers, making its New York debut courtesy of Artistic New Directions and the 78th St Theatre Lab -- can prove heartily entertaining thanks to a few good turns of phrase and the finely tuned work of an excellent ensemble...But it's Kind whose work is revelatory. Yes, he's playing yet another schlimazel (that's the one the soup is spilled on), but he's doing more than stretching out his well-honed schtick. As star rather than sideman, Kind finds unexpected shadings in Oliver. His comic timing is a thin shield that barely covers an eternally vulnerable underbelly.

Variety B
(Sam Thielman) Eleven years after its Chicago premiere, Jeffrey Sweet's "Flyovers" finally gets a New York production, and a good one. The show's tiny Upper West Side venue is one of its most useful assets, not least because it's inhabited by Broadway vets Kevin Geer, Richard Kind and Michele Pawk, who hold up beautifully under the close scrutiny of an audience that's just a few feet away. The production's main weakness, oddly, is the play's climax, which makes the entire exercise seem a little static. B-
(Loren Noveck) For the first third of the play, Jeffrey Sweet has constructed what feels like a fencing match between two opponents playing with completely different weapons...But as with so many other things, there's another level here that doesn't get revealed till later, and it seems so much more intricately plotted than the slow-developing early part of the play that it didn't entirely ring true to me. In fact, I found myself not entirely convinced by the way the story played out--but the character studies, given extra pop by the tiny, intimate space and some wonderful acting, stuck with me. In addition to Kind and Geer, Michele Pawk, as Iris, lights up the stage in a role that could come off as just a sidekick to Ted. She gives Iris a level of self-knowledge, an emotional worldliness, that neither of the men can match. (The final cast member, Donna Bullock as Ted's wife, appears in only one brief scene.)

CurtainUp C+
(Jenny Sandman) Sandy Shinner's direction is simple and evocative, as are Robin Paterson's sets. Jeffrey Sweet's script is overly fond of pointing out in various subtle ways that Oliver doesn't belong in Ohio and never will. The fact that Richard Kind's Oliver knows this, and doesn't seem upset by it makes for a strange dichotomy. Oddly, it works, at least half the time. Flyovers doesn't address any of the larger issues that crop up (anti-intellectualism and anti-Semitism are the two most obvious). However, it's a quietly meaty play with plenty of food for thought and a chance to see actors often seen on Broadway as close as if they were in your living room in a theater where the cost of admission is under twenty dollars.

Just Shows To Go You C+
(Patrick Lee) The ensuing business comes as no surprise, since the playwright has oversold the veiled menace in the bully's dialogue right from the start. Still, Kind and Pawk give terrific, well-judged naturalistic performances, expertly scaled for the intimacy of the tiny 78th Street Theater Lab.

The New York Times C
(Claudia La Rocco) Once the plot is fully revealed, "Flyovers" is a thinner play, wrapping up in predictable rather than inevitable ways. Ultimately the characters don't seem more than theatrical creations, despite the strong efforts of the actors, who are bracingly less sure of these people's inner lives than the script would suggest. Ms. Pawk is particularly persuasive as the feisty but worn high school flirt, and Mr. Geer's rapidly shifting eyes and ominously mercurial mien are of more interest than his unsurprising celebrity preoccupations and working-class resentments.

American Theatre Web C
(Andy Propst) There are the hints of two or maybe even three fine plays in Jeffrey Sweet's "Flyovers," which opened last night at the Upper West Side's 78th Street Theatre Lab...Unfortunately, director Sandy Shinner's staging, which seeks to prefigure the final moments of the script, never unifies the various elements of Sweet's play, which are all directly dependent on one another but at the same time, feel as if they might contain enough material for an individual script. Similarly, each of the fine actors are turning in performances that are immaculately detailed and filled with nuance, but there are times when they are straining against their castmates, and though, "Flyovers "ultimately resolves itself neatly, albeit with one tantalizing ambiguity, it's never a fully satisfying theatrical flight.

Village Voice D
(Alexis Soloski) The considerable talents of Kind, as a lumbering softie, and Pawk, playing a tough-talking gal, seem wasted on the material. Maybe they know it. Toward the end of the opening-night performance, both collapsed into helpless, muffled giggling that seemed in excess of the script's demands. For just a moment, they'd lost the plot—wonderfully.

Backstage A- 12; Theatermania B 10; Variety B 10; B- 9; CurtainUp C+ 8; Just Shows To Go You C+ 8; New York Times C 7; American Theatre Web C 7; Village Voice D 4;TOTAL: 75/9 = 8.33 (C+)

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