nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
January 30, 2009
Flyovers, in a nutshell, is a character study of three former high school classmates—not friends—25 years later, after their reunion. Oliver got beaten up almost every day in high school; then he went away to college and became a successful film critic and television personality who hasn't been back to his small Ohio hometown—until he surprisingly turns up for the 25th reunion. Ted beat Oliver up almost every day in high school; he never left Ohio, got married, had two kids, and got laid off when the local factory went belly-up. Iris was a "wild child" in high school, who then got pregnant by a guy who didn't stick around; she's already a grandmother in her early 40s, and, like Ted, suffering economically in their dying small town. So there's an automatic disconnect—an ongoing, long-standing clash of both personalities and cultures—between Ted and Oliver, and no obvious reason at all they should be sitting around a table on Ted's deck after the reunion, drinking together. Is Ted trying to offer some sort of long-overdue apology for being a bully in high school? Is Oliver trying to feel, 25 years later, what it's like to hang out with the "cool" kids? It takes a long time—and a lot of alcohol, and the arrival of Iris (a former crush of Oliver's), and the arrival and departure of Lianne, Ted's mentally ill wife—for the real motivations to start coming out. And when they do, they're darker and stranger, and sadder, than you might have expected.
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. Where Ted is clearly trying to goad Oliver in every possible way—to admit Ted scarred him permanently in some way, or that he now feels contempt for Ohio and middle America ("flyover country" in Ted's phrase), or that he's cheating on his wife with his television costar—Oliver seems completely oblivious to the malicious undercurrent in just about everything Ted says, to Ted's barely suppressed rage, to Ted's obvious unhappiness. Kevin Geer, as Ted, strikes an interesting balance between the mocking barbs and a gee-whiz genuine interest in his now-somewhat-famous classmate, with the occasional flash of a more serious and deeper anger.
Every sentence out of Oliver, on some basic level, reveals that he sees no difference between himself and his former classmates other than choices they've consciously made. Oliver chose to go to college and write about movies, which he knows to be relatively ordinary and unimportant in the grand scheme of things, and it seems nothing more than obvious to him that Ted or Iris could have done the same—could still do the same now, if they wanted. By the same token, Oliver seems to genuinely bear no grudges against Ted for high school. So he got beat up. So what? People get beat up in high school. There's a charming lack of self-consciousness in Richard Kind's Oliver: it really isn't a big deal to him that he's on TV; it really seems like he's come back on a whim, not to lord it over people who tormented him in high school, and that it wouldn't have occurred to him to do such a thing.
If Oliver had been consciously trying to taunt Ted, he couldn't have come up with a better way to do it, though; Oliver's very optimism about human nature, or naivete about the economic constraints on his former classmates, only prove, for Ted, his ultimate contempt. So Iris's arrival, though slightly puzzling, seems likely to defuse the building tension.
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.)