Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Family of Airline Highway

Much like Armistead Maupin did with creating a family at 28 Barbary Lane, playwright Lisa D'Amour illustrates that family can be chosen and not blood in her play Airline Highway. A group of downtrodden people (addicts, hookers, strippers, poets) have gathered in the parking lot of The Hummingbird Motel in New Orleans to throw a party for an aging burlesque performer who has requested a funeral before she dies. The play is steeped with humor, but all of that comedy covers deep wounds and pain that each of these characters carry within.

Like the revelers of The Wild Party, this group doesn't know when it's time for the party to end. Everything is in excess to where things are said that should remain unspoken. However being a family, they all believe they have the right to say what they want because deep down, you believe these people genuinely care about each other. The people are flawed and those you may not give two looks to in real life, but that's what is heart breaking about looking into the worlds of this make-shift family.

Joe Mantello has directed a true ensemble piece that has multiple story lines happening at once (and often on different levels of the set that represents the outside facade of a fading motel). It's the way in which this cast talks over each other and interacts that gives this character-study-driven piece depth and truth. I felt as if I was watching an indie film at times where Mantello has definitely directed it cinematically. 

It is hard to single out cast members because they truly are an ensemble that works like a well-oiled machine without a weak link. However, Julie White as the aging prostitute that has given up children and uses drugs to cope with life gives a brilliant performance. I found myself watching her when she wasn't speaking and there was a complete play happening within her mind. Her Tanya is stripped bare and not afraid to leave anything on that stage. The other that stuck out to me was K. Todd Freeman as Sissy Na Na. The no-nonsense bad ass drag queen that keeps everyone in check. But honestly, I loved them all. And they are always present and living these characters.

I don't want to give away plot or points. I think some critics may complain of the open-ended nature of the piece, but that's real life. It's not as if these people could all be whisked away to a new world by someone winning the lottery. Instead of major twists and turns, D'Amour has given life to those you'd not find yourself hanging out with in the real world. Do know you are in for an experience that you are sure to remember if you venture into the seedy underbelly of New Orleans (the Manhattan Theatre Club).


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