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A first-rate ensemble led by Richard Kind and Michele Pawk helps overcome the weaknesses in Jeffrey Sweet's play about a film critic's awkward homecoming. logo
Michele Pawk, Kevin Geer, Donna Bullock,
and Richard Kind in Flyovers
(© Carol Rosegg)
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.

Twenty-five years after he left small-town Ohio, Oliver (Richard Kind) is back in his former hometown. The one-time town geek -- and token Jew -- is now a noted film critic with a syndicated television show. His success is enough to torture former high school tormentor Ted (Kevin Geer), who thinks Oliver, now living in New York, must be thumbing his nose at "flyover" country. Nonetheless, Ted is happily hosting him at a post-reunion barbecue in his backyard, which is where the plot's many twists and turns begin to take shape.

Geer, forced to drive the play's often improbable plot, makes for a genial antagonist. You know that he'll never get the chip off his shoulder -- and the fact that he knows it, too, makes his fate an especially sad one. Michele Pawk proves a study of natural contrasts as Iris, a local bad girl gone worse -- seductive, faded, brittle, and steely. This is one more in a long line of terrific performances by the Tony Award-winning star. Donna Bullock, who has the smallest role, is heartbreakingly childlike as Ted's unstable wife.

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.

Unfortunately, despite his performance and the deft direction of Sandy Shiner, Oliver still doesn't quite make sense; what we see on stage of the character doesn't match up to what we're told about him. And this is one of the key weaknesses of Sweet's problematic script.

Moreover, Flyovers wants to be a character study, but Sweet keeps letting it bog down in author-imposed plot. And while play is set in 1998 -- because it was written then -- some updating would do the work some good. But as long one can concentrate on the pleasures of a first-rate cast in an intimate space, Flyovers is a worthwhile trip.

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