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Manhattan Theatre Club Presents "Airline Highway" at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
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Manhattan Theatre Club Presents "Airline Highway" at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

353 West 47th Street (8th-9th)
New York, NY 10036

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Manhattan Theatre Club

Airline Highway
(Airline Highway Website)

By Lisa d’Amour

Lynn Meadow, Artistic Director
Barry Grove, Exec. Producer

Directed by Joe Mantello

At the
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th Street

Carolyn Braver, K. Todd Freeman, Scott Jaeck,
Ken Marks, Caroline Neff, Tim Edward Rhoze,
Judith Roberts, Joe Tippett, Julie White
Todd d’Amour, Shannon Eagen, Venida Evans
Joe Forbrich, Leslie Hendrix, Sekou Laidlow, Toni Martin

Scenic Design: Scott Pask
Costume Design: David Zinn
Lighting Design: Japhy Weideman
Original Music and Sound Design: Fitz Patton
Fight Director: Thomas Schall
Original Casting: Erica Daniels
New York Casting: Caparelliotis Casting
Production Stage Manager: Diane DiVita
General Manager: Florie Seery
Press: Boneau/Bryan-Brown
Director of Artistic Operations: Amy Gilkes Loe
Director of Marketing: Debra Waxman-Pilla
Director of Play Development: Elizabeth Rothman
Director of Development: Lynne Randall
Production Manager: Joshua Helman
& Bethany Weinstein
Director of Casting: Nancy Piccione
Artistic Line Producer: Barclay Stiff

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 26, 2015

The Hummingbird Motel on Airline Highway, New Orleans, is the setting of this new play by Lisa D’Amour. Hummingbirds, as I’ve observed over the years, flutter rapidly in space, alight briefly, feed, fight competition for the liquid food in territorial courage, and disappear, maybe to return or maybe not. Ms. D’Amour, in this poignant Steppenwolf production, appropriately has named the temporary, even quasi-permanent home for transient feeders, nourished in liquor, conversation, humor, and takeout food. These transient residents at this seedy motel, in disrepair, huddle for communal warmth and support. The senior, longtime resident, Miss Ruby (Judith Roberts), is slowly passing away from illness and the accumulated wear and tear of the prostitute business. She arrives at her “funeral”, which is actually a serendipitous memorial celebration, in the festively decorated sidewalk of the motel, carried downstairs to her friends and fans, by stretcher. She regales the crowd, before she dies.

Preparing for and attending the second act “funeral” are the motel owner, current and past inhabitants, and some neighbors and passersby. Wayne (Scott Jaeck) spends time hiring former drug-addict, Terry (Tim Edward Rhoze) to knock a few nails into loose gutters, when Wayne’s not preoccupied with caring for Tanya (Julie White), who uses her room for brief, paid encounters with men. Ms. White and Mr. Jaeck have the most layered and interesting characters, individually weathered and mutually compassionate. Sissy Na Na (K. Todd Freeman), a drag queen, is the most vibrant inhabitant, who provides comic relief, amidst temper tantrums, his own and those around him. Francis (Ken Marks), who appears to exist on the periphery, was a would-be poet and rides a bike, doing errands for Tanya. Krista (Caroline Neff) is truly the saddest character, a young, part-time stripper, who sometimes has a room and sometimes a sidewalk box to call home. Years earlier, Krista had been involved with a resident they called “Bait Boy”. When “Bait Boy” (Joe Tippett) arrives for Ruby’s event, he’s wearing the trappings of middle class and carries a platter of hors d’oeuvres from Whole Foods. On his other arm is 16 year-old Zoe (Carolyn Braver), the daughter of Greg’s (Bait Boy) older female, live-in companion. It just happens that Greg’s new lady friend is wealthy.

The ensemble is filled out with worthy performances by Todd D’Amour, Shannon Eagan, Venida Evans, Joe Forbrich, Leslie Hendrix, Sekou Laidlow, and Toni Martin. Joe Mantello has directed this memorable play to both maximize the uniqueness of each of the characters’ unfolding stories and personalities, and to create a cohesive, colorful cast of characters. When Greg’s “guest”, Zoe, takes out her tablet to interview Greg’s former friends, as a high school, “subculture”, writing assignment, Sissy Na Na, among others, smolders and explodes. Yet, the fragments of interview backstories are riveting. Eventually Greg morphs back into the tattooed, combative Bait Boy, as he removes his jacket and rolls up his sleeves, guzzling bottles of beer. Similarly, Sissy Na Na eventually morphs, as he removes his wig and expresses his other self. Scott Pask’s two-story motel, with door, windows, and side structures seems less cluttered and more cheery, when the “funeral” décor is strung. That décor gave the whole set a festive, New Orleans aura. David Zinn’s costumes, as well, seemed brighter, with the added ornamentations. Japhy Weideman’s lighting added glow, later on, while dimming the dust. Fitz Patton’s sound enabled each character to be heard throughout the stairs and landings. Kudos to Manhattan Theatre Club, Steppenwolf, and Lisa D’Amour.

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at