Sunday, April 19, 2015

Airline Highway *

Playwright Lisa D’Amour was a Pulitzer nominee for Detroit. Chicago’s Steppenwolf is a multi-award-winning ensemble theater company with an enviable record of successful transfers to Broadway including August: Osage County. Joe Mantello is a two-time Tony Award-winning director. Julie White is an excellent actress. Putting them all together for this Manhattan Theatre Club import must have seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t. Despite the talented cast of 16, the splendid scenic design (by Scott Pask) and the evocative costumes (by David Zinn), the results are curiously flat. The play takes us through one day at the Hummingbird Hotel, a place that has seen better days and that is now frequented mostly by people who live on the margins of society. We meet a pill-addicted hooker (White), a stripper (Caroline Neff), an unhandy handyman (Tim Edward Rhoze), a wise drag queen (K. Todd Freeman), a poet (Ken Marks) and the hotel manager (Scott Jaeck). At the request of Miss Ruby (Judith Roberts), the dying former strip club owner who serves as materfamilias to the residents and who wants to enjoy her own funeral, they are planning a party for her in the hotel parking lot. Bait Boy (Joe Tippett), a former club employee who was swept off by a wealthy older woman from Atlanta three years before, has returned for the party. In the play’s most unlikely device, he has brought along his gal pal’s teenaged daughter (Carolyn Braver) to interview the denizens of the hotel for a high school report on subcultures. The playwright’s point of view is obscure. The play offers not much heat and very little light. In no way does it provide the emotional payoff of Lanford Wilson’s far-better models, Balm in Gilead and Hot l Baltimore. Surprisingly few people near me failed to return after intermission. Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes including intermission.

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