Airline Highway: Theater review by Adam Feldman
Life spurts out all over the place in the first two thirds of Lisa D’Amour’s Airline Highway. The setting is the parking lot of the Humming Bird, a decaying New Orleans motel that brims with scuffed, muddily colorful characters. These include Tanya (Julie White), a haggard, gold-hearted hooker trying to stay off pain pills; Sissy Na Na (K. Todd Freeman), a sassy trans survivor; Krista (Caroline Neff), a baby-faced stripper; and Wayne (Scott Jaeck), the joint’s garrulous manager. In an upstairs room is Miss Ruby (Judith Roberts), an elderly onetime burlesque queen. The others are throwing her a predeath funeral party, and the prodigal son at their makeshift-family reunion is Bait Boy (Joe Tippett), who has escaped their squalor as the boy toy of a rich woman, and who now returns with his girlfriend’s bourgeois teenage daughter (Carolyn Braver) in tow.
Although the characters are familiar in many ways, director Joe Mantello and his accomplished cast of 16 breathe spirit into most of them, and the big, boozy party scene has jazzy vigor. (Freeman and White are standouts.) But D’Amour’s dialogue is short on the kind of poetry that might elevate her gallery of beautiful-loser types, and she can’t sustain the wide focus she initiates; Airline Highway’s multiple plot threads are pulled out (or forgotten) in a rushed, unsatisfying denouement that resorts to summarizing its message to the audience in the form of a (literal) high-school class presentation. Like the cinder-block–mounted car on the side of Scott Pask’s seedy multilevel set, the play has color and beat-up charm, but doesn’t go anywhere.—Adam Feldman
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Broadway). By Lisa D’Amour. Directed by Joe Mantello. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 10mins.
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