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Theater Review: “Airline Highway"

 Tomia Taylor, Dana Fares, Beverly Baker, Kevane La'Marr Coleman, Nicole Sollazzo & Natasha Partnoy.
Photo credit:
Daren Scott

“The House of the Rising Sun” sets the scene for Lisa D’Amour’s “Airline Highway,” presented in its West Coast premiere through Sept. 3, by ion theatre (but at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center rather than ion’s usual Hillcrest digs). 

Set in New Orleans in 2014 – more than a decade after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina – “Airline Highway” takes place at the Hummingbird Hotel, a seedy joint inhabited by hookers, strippers, outcasts, the dispossessed and the deserted

In its heyday, burlesque performer Miss Ruby (Elaine Litton) ruled here. But now she is dying (literally), rather like the hotel and perhaps its way of life as well, and the remaining residents are planning a nice funeral party for her so that she will be able to enjoy it before it’s too late.

In the parking lot (meticulously recreated by Director Claudio Raygoza) sit the decaying remains of a bright red car at the foot of the steps leading to the upstairs rooms. 

Hooker Tanya (Beverly Baker) is also in residence.

She’s made a living selling it here for some years.

Oh, and no-nonsense transvestite Sissy Na Na (a terrific Kevane La’Marr Coleman, who has some amazing shoes) seems to be Miss Ruby’s primary caregiver.

Then there’s Wayne (Glenn Paris), the Hummingbird’s manager, divorced, no kids, who apparently just likes hanging out with these strange folks.

Francis (Tim West), a bearded geezer on a bike (yep, he rides it up the entrance ramp to the stage) is an amusing poetic holdover from the Beats.

And chain-smoking handyman Terry (Rhys Greene), who fixes things – but not too well.

Then there’s  Krista (Dana Fares), a stripper down the street at Babe’s.

She’s been hurt both by nature (which she probably didn’t expect) and human nature (which she probably did). Krista had a long romantic history with Bait Boy (Richard Johnson), who has been a bouncer, a bartender, a strip-club barker and a busker (among other things) in the Quarter.

Three years ago he “went straight” with an older woman and moved to Atlanta. Krista still isn’t over that.

This day, Bait Boy (who now calls himself Greg) shows up with 16-year-old Zoe (Natasha Partnoy), a bright high-school kid with a laptop who wants to interview the Hummingbird’s residents as source material for a paper she needs to write about a subculture (as Wayne puts it, “We are definitely sub culture here. What’s lower than the gutter?). 

The first act is taken up with preparations for the party. In the second act we will meet Miss Ruby, who will pontificate rather unconvincingly about being part of a group that cares about each other and (I guess) try to make us care about them.

Unfortunately, I found that difficult, and the play overlong and frankly boring.

But bravo to the tech team that created this “subculture,” starting with Director Claudio Raygoza’s terrific set (especially that car in the parking lot, which will also serve as a table for the party).

Janet Pitcher’s costumes look just right, and Karin Filijan contributes cinematic lighting that works well. 

The details

“Airline Highway” plays through September 3, 2016 at the Tenth Avenue Arts Center, 930 Tenth Ave, San Diego, Downtown.

Wednesday at 7 pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (619) 600-5020 or www.iontheatre.com