The Hummingbird Motel, the setting for Lisa D’Amour’s new comedy/drama Airline Highway, has seen better days and better guests. Suffice it to say that Broadway has seen better plays. This Steppenwolf Theater export is a derivative chronicle of lost souls and misfits in the Crescent City.
They include clear-eyed “super-tranny” Sissy Na-Na (K. Todd Freeman); Krista (Caroline Neff), a stripper who’s sufficiently down on her luck that she can’t afford the modest weekly tariff for a room at the Hummingbird and who’s still hung up on her old boyfriend, the curiously named Bait Boy; Tanya (Julie White), a prostitute who’s grieving for the three children she game up for adoption; Terry (Tim Edward Rhoze), a none-too-handy handyman; and Wayne (Scott Jaeck), the manager of the Hummingbird, who’s fretting about how the new Costco across the street will alter the neighborhood. (Scott Pask's set is spot-on)
These people who have very little do have each other. They’re a family complete with a matriarch, Miss Ruby (Judith Roberts), a burlesque performer whose imminent death is the fulcrum for Airline Highway.
Tanya and Krista spearhead a living funeral. It’s a chance to bring together Ruby’s friends, including Bait Boy (Joe Tippett), who’s moved to Atlanta, acquired a wealthy “cougar” girlfriend (much to the devastation of Krista) and now wants to be called by his real name, Greg (much to the scorn of pretty much everybody). Bait Boy, that is to say, Greg, hasn’t returned to his old stomping ground alone. He’s accompanied by his girlfriend’s teenaged daughter, Zoe (Carolyn Braver), who’s working on a sociology project about sub-cultures. It’s pretty safe to say that young Zoe has hit the mother lode. Talk about primary sources. She gets enough for extra credit when Miss Ruby, lying in a gurney, puts in an appearance and delivers a stirring self-sendoff on her two favorite topics, sex and ducks. And darned if young Zoe, in a clichéd apercu, doesn’t come to realize that attention must be paid to the likes of Tania, Krista, Wayne, et al. By God, she wants to live among them.
The downtrodden and down-and-out should have our empathy. They should have our notice. But to have it for two hours? Sorry, that’s something they have to earn. It doesn’t happen here. Airline Highway, which invites unfavorable comparisons to Lanford Wilson (The Mot L Hummingbird), Inge, Williams and others, is a welter of empty talk and patronizing clichés about the ennobled underclass.