Debate still rages over whether narratives rely on three basic plots, seven, 20, or possibly as many as 36. Whatever that number, a film critic like Oliver, the credulous hero of Jeffrey Sweet’s Flyovers, should be able to spot the familiar machinations surrounding him; yet, though a respected reviewer, he remains oblivious to the formulaic schemes of his fellow characters. It’s enough to make a fellow critic want to lean across the proscenium, tap him on the shoulder, and advise, “Oliver—it’s a honey trap. Run.”
A hit at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theatre a decade ago, Flyovers has recently received a revival, courtesy of Artistic New Directions, under its original director, Sandy Shinner. After 25 years, Oliver (Richard Kind) has returned to his Ohio hometown to attend a high school reunion, where he encounters erstwhile classmates Ted (Kevin Geer) and Iris (Michele Pawk). They were horrid to him back then—beating him up, forcing him to piss himself—but are strangely obliging now. (More useful advice: “Oliver—they’re up to something. Put down your vodka and go.”)
Purportedly an examination of red-state/blue-state tensions, Sweet’s play suggests small-towners are craven, celebrity-obsessed, and curiously fascinated by Jews. (Big-city types? We’re generous, unfussed, and Jewish.) 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.