Chicago — Watching a rough and colorfully costumed organisation merrymaking down in a parking lot of a decayed New Orleans motel, a wide-eyed and 16-year-old Zoe — easeful and wearied in her unequivocally opposite suburban Atlanta life — asks a large question: “How does this happen?”
That doubt — about a drifters who’ve found their approach here and a distressing city they call home — is always in perspective in Lisa D’Amour’s “Airline Highway,” that only non-stop during Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre underneath Joe Mantello’s direction. When it transfers to Broadway in April, it will be a initial new play by a lady to open there in dual years.
D’Amour takes her pretension from a highway joining New Orleans and Baton Rouge; before a widespread rendered it a backwater, Airline Highway was dotted with abounding motels like a Hummingbird — appearing upstage, before a downstage parking lot strewn with a junked leftovers of damaged dreams (vivid set pattern by Scott Pask).
Those dreams go to a characters hovering here, occupying one of a Hummingbird’s bedrooms or vital on a surrounding streets. They’ve collected for a wake — being hold while she’s still alive, so she can suffer it — of Miss Ruby (Judith Roberts), a mythological mime dancer failing in a second-floor Hummingbird room.
Eight other characters underline prominently in D’Amour’s play; they’re in spin surrounded by some-more than a dozen garb members — including onetime Milwaukee actor and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee connoisseur Toni Martin, who changed south after finishing her internship with a Milwaukee Repertory Theater and pennyless out in a lauded 2013 Chicago entertainment of “A Raisin in a Sun.”
The 8 principals embody Tanya (Kate Buddeke), an aging, uncertain and strung-out prostitute; Krista (Caroline Neff), a stripper who is Tanya’s younger self; Wayne (Scott Jacek), a warm though mislaid motel manager; Francis (Gordon Joseph Weiss), an aged hippie poet; Terry (Tim Edward Rhoze), a big-dreaming handyman; and Sissy Na Na (K. Todd Freeman), a Hummingbird’s charismatic and intimately liquid voice of wisdom.
Rounding out a 8 are onetime Hummingbird proprietor Bait Boy (Stephen Louis Grush) and stepdaughter Zoe (Carolyn Braver), in city for Miss Ruby’s funeral. Having married adult and changed to Atlanta, a yuppified Bait Boy now goes by Greg, though it shortly becomes transparent that he can’t shun who he was or where he’s from.
None of these characters can, in a beautifully created play temperament traces of good garb pieces like O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” or Williams’ “The Night of a Iguana,” in that bad story ceaselessly overtakes unfortunate souls’ efforts to outpace it. Resorting to overlapping dialogue, D’Amour gives all of her essence stories copiousness of room.
Too most room, actually, in a play that could unequivocally use some tightening before New York.
D’Amour needs to entirely trust her essay and this plain expel to communicate who these characters are, but adding remaining fact that slows things down, overly granulating already textured stories. The factoid-rich carnival enabling these extras can resemble a high propagandize category plan Zoe primarily sets out to write: a sociological news on a marginalized subculture.
As was also loyal in her differently glorious “Detroit,” a 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, D’Amour also struggles with a finale — there’s several baked into this play’s final 30 mins — as she tries to sum adult with a strong exclamation point.
No need to evangelise — not when someone like a slashing Neff is laying unclothed a bleeding essence of a now-homeless Krista, still carrying a flame for a long-vanished Bait Boy, to whom she insists she is now an up-and-coming paralegal rather than a down-and-out stripper.
Or when an superb Freeman — Sissy’s turmoil always there, only underneath a jiving and joking aspect in this unequivocally humorous play — erupts during Zoe and her clarity of entitled privilege, so opposite from a savagery he’d gifted during her proposal age. Or when we watch Braver, expertly charting a well-meaning Zoe’s good awakening.
There are many relocating moments like these, moulding constrained characters who do a unequivocally good pursuit of vocalization for themselves. Kudos to D’Amour for bringing them to life. Now she needs to let them go, organically inhabiting their possess stories rather than synthetically rounding out hers.
“Airline Highway” continues by Feb. 8 during Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted St. in Chicago. For tickets, revisit www.steppenwolf.org/.