The funeral at the center of Lisa D’Amour’s new play “Airline Highway” is probably unlike any memorial service you’ve ever attended.
It is a loud, drunken, jubilant affair in the parking lot of a dilapidated motel, located along a stretch of highway in New Orleans. The motley crowd in attendance includes a stripper, a cross-dresser and a drug-addicted prostitute (played by no less than Tony winner Julie White).
Not only that, the deceased, a one-time burlesque performer and local celebrity named Miss Ruby (Judith Roberts), is not exactly deceased. She may be on her death bed, and her memory is less than reliable, but she’s still alive — at least for now. She apparently wanted to attend her own funeral.
“Airline Highway” features a variety of eccentric characters but is primarily concerned with Bait Boy (Joe Tippett), who left the neighborhood and his girlfriend Krysta (Caroline Neff) years earlier. He is now the boy toy of an older, wealthy woman in Atlanta.
He has returned for the funeral and has brought along his girlfriend’s clean-cut 16-year-old daughter (Carolyn Braver), who is eager to interview everyone for a school project on urban subcultures. Meanwhile, Krysta, currently homeless and directionless, is eager to rekindle Bait Boy’s interest in her.
“Airline Highway” presents a lively, detailed portrait of a lower class community in the South. But nice as it is to have a wide assortment of colorful characters, the focus too often drifts away from the central players of the plot. It ends with many of the conflicts unresolved.
It’s no surprise that this production was previously seen at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, which is renowned for its emphasis on ensemble acting.
As directed by Joe Mantello (“Wicked”), the cast delivers detailed, sympathetic performances.
If you go: “Airline Highway” plays through June 14 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. 261 W. 47th St., telecharge.com.