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  Airline Highway at Steppenwolf Theatre

Airline Highway

Steppenwolf Theatre
1650 N. Halsted Chicago

In the parking lot of The Hummingbird, a once-glamorous motel on New Orleans' infamous Airline Highway, a group of friends gather. A rag-tag collection of strippers, hustlers and philosophers have come together to celebrate the life of Miss Ruby, an iconic burlesque performer who has requested a funeral before she dies. The party rages through the night as old friends resurface to pay their respects. A world premiere from the author of Detroit, Airline Highway is a boisterous and moving ode to the outcasts that make life a little more interesting.

Thru - Feb 14, 2015

Price: $20-$86

Show Type: Drama

Box Office: 312-335-1650

Running Time: 2hrs, 15mins

Steppenwolf Theatre Seating Charts

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  Airline Highway Reviews
  • Highly Recommended
  • Recommended
  • Somewhat Recommended
  • Not Recommended

Chicago Tribune - Highly Recommended

"...D'Amour spent formative years in New Orleans and she obviously feels huge affection for the individuals who toil in its bars, strip clubs and music joints, who work Jazz fest but never attend, and the sex workers who service the nervous, escapist tourists. "Airline Highway" is a romantic treatment of the town's colorful loners and outliers and the spontaneous families that spring up among those let down by real relatives. It is also a frequently poetic piece of writing, paying explicit homage to Lanford Wilson's "Hot 'L' Baltimore" — the occasion of a legendary Steppenwolf production of the past — and it is a fine match for an ensemble-oriented group of distinguished Chicago actors (the big crew also includes the authentic likes of Jacqueline Williams, Robert Breuler and Scott Jaeck) who imbue these characters with spunk, spirit and vulnerability. That far — and it's a long way traveled — so very good."
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Chris Jones

Chicago Sun Times - Highly Recommended

"...This is a hugely ambitious play, streaked with much humor and heartfelt talk. And there is a particularly wonderful sequence in which several of the characters take turns singing “improvised” verses. But really, isn’t there something terribly naive and simplistic about the belief that the souls of the dispossessed are innately nobler than those of the strivers?"
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Hedy Weiss

Chicago Reader - Somewhat Recommended

"...But the biggest problem with D'Amour's play is its unwitting endorsement of the kind of bourgeois conformity she intends to condemn. Young Zoe embodies the mindset D'Amour wants corrected. She views the Hummingbird inhabitants as exotic others to be examined for her own gratification, imagining she can get their "full stories" in a couple of hours. Yet her agenda is identical to the playwright's. D'Amour spends two hours holding up her otherized characters to public scrutiny—not so that we might understand the full complexities of their lives but so that we can learn a useful lesson. It doesn't help that her depiction of "the underclass" conforms to classist stereotypes of the poor: they're earthier, less motivated, more emotionally labile, and generally less clothed than the monied classes like Zoe."
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Justin Hayford

Windy City Times - Recommended

"...Steppenwolf's international reputation for ensemble work is displayed at its best by the overlapping dialogue ( a phenomenon only possible in live performance ) and an aural/visual milieu that all but shimmers with sultry gulf-coast languor. What a shame if D'Amour's headed-for-Broadway play opened with its rolling bon temps hobbled by audiences puzzling over the motives of a cheap plot device introduced to lend a pretense of social conflict."
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Mary Shen Barnidge

Time Out Chicago - Highly Recommended

"...These are all deeply recognizable, empathetic performances, and Mantello manages our focus with great skill, but it’s hard to fully invest in the characters in the slow-burning first act. D’Amour often has two or three conversations overlapping, and it can feel like you’re missing information. Airline Highway can seem a bit clogged with traffic, but as an exploration of chosen families stocked with expert performances, it’s a road worth traveling."
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Kris Vire

Theatre By Numbers - Highly Recommended

"...This ensemble is an incredible force. They are bombastic, deeply flawed and thrilling to watch as each stumbles further from the ideal self they’ve expended such effort to project. As the keg runs dry, each of them faces the harsh light of their true nature; some are wizened, and others run from the unkind mirror. Miss Ruby proclaims them “the most gorgeous group of fuck ups I have ever seen.”"
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Sean Margaret Wagner

Chicago On the Aisle - Recommended

"...But illuminating the play at its core is Tanya, a middle-aged prostitute and drug addict who lives in dread that one of the three children she has given away in her lifetime will track down their birth mother and discover this wretched woman. Whatever the playwright's intentions, in Kate Buddeke's eloquent persona "Airline Highway" feels like Tanya's story. At once tall and vaguely noble, psychologically fractured and spiritually scarred, Buddeke is radiant, sad and real."
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Lawrence B. Johnson

Stage and Cinema - Somewhat Recommended

"...Mantello orchestrates this well-intended hoopla with cunning abandon. The trouble is we get energy without urgency and movement without direction. Next to nothing is at stake. The end of an era is not enough. Airline Highway (as generic as its title) couldn’t be more interesting to see or more derivative to hear. It’s never condescending, as Steppenwolf can be, just very, very unfresh."
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Lawrence Bommer

Splash Magazine - Somewhat Recommended

"... Though there is some great work happening on stage I’m not sure what this show is trying to tell us about this specific tribal “family” other than to give D’Amour a chance to lecture us about embracing non-conformity, a topic that has been already covered in so many other plays (and musicals) over the last few decades. I really don’t get what the purpose of this play is. Is it about a search for this little community’s meaning? Is it about forming a “family”? Is it about being authentic? The puzzling amount of mixed messages coming across in "Airline Highway" are as fuzzy and aimless as the lives of the meandering characters that inhibit this play."
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Justin LeClaire

ChicagoCritic - Highly Recommended

"...Everybody in the cast gives an excellent performance, providing depth to the characters who can only get so much dialogue. Many of the conversations are overlapping, contributing to the notion it’s more important to get a feel for these people than to know all their specifics. Their pasts are pretty much what you’d expect, anyway. At one point in her endearing, often humorous performance as Tanya, Buddeke goes on a desperate monologue begging Zoe to acknowledge that their lives all matter. Weiss’s Francis is a man who has to put a lot of effort into being so care-free, and as Sissy, Freeman’s wig and nails may be put-on, but his resilience and perceptiveness don’t seem to be."
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Jacob Davis

Chicago Stage Standard - Recommended

"...There are moments when the many themes within the play are voiced strongly, clearly, and empathetically. When Tanya breaks down, and declares she and her cohorts still matter. When Bait Boy loses his acquired pretension, and shows his true colors. But the rest of the point is muddled in the mass of ensemble on stage holding six conversations at once. It’s just that none of these conversations are very distinct. What is the play trying to say? Visually engrossing, and directed with a wonderful sense of play by Joe Mantello, the true capacity for connection gets lost somewhere. You feel like a wallflower at a party where everyone thinks you’ve sold out."

Will Cameron

Around The Town Chicago - Recommended

"...Director Joe Mantello uses this finely constructed set (Scott Pask has outdone himself) and his fantastic cast of players to tell this story with a high energy. There are many stories involving the lives of these characters, and yet, they often co-incide with each other. There is Tanya (amazingly played by the delicious Kate Buddeke) a hooker who has led a life that she regrets and yet is always there for the others of her “family” at The Hummingbird. Wayne (deftly handled by Chicago favorite Scott Jaeck) who is the motel manager, in a haze about how he got where he is. Caroline Neff plays the sexy, young stripper Krista, who was a resident, but is now homeless, and yet keeps coming back to her “family”."
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Alan Bresloff

NewCity Chicago - Somewhat Recommended

"...In the end, the show, with its many striking moments and gorgeous details, feels like less than the sum of its parts, with little post-curtain resonance. How, one wonders, could a play about the suffering of the urban poor, written at a time of historic inequality and blatant oppression, not articulate one single political thought? Such insularity takes effort. In part, it reflects the playwright’s treatment of deprivation and despair less as a social problem than an individual choice of sordid authenticity over the beige sterility of middle-class life. This spares the audience the discomfort of reflecting on its own role in maintaining these conditions—hey, they want to live this way! We are told repeatedly not to judge—a worthy message, to be sure. But by failing to express either anger at the present moment or hope for the future, the play, like its characters, is a dead end."
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Hugh Iglarsh

Chicago Theatre Review - Highly Recommended

"...People live their lives to the fullest by learning from those around them. In Lisa D’Amour’s play, staged with genius and sensitivity by Broadway’s Joe Mantello and performed by an ensemble of extraordinary actors, the education culled from these characters’ years of survival shines forth. People everywhere will always be the same, but when offered the chance to improve their lives they become reborn. In this celebration of a life well-lived, a cast of fascinating characters show the audience the importance of enjoying each morsel of life’s banquet, and how to glean every precious moment of wisdom from that experience."
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Colin Douglas

Chicagoland Theater Reviews - Highly Recommended

"...The Steppenwolf production under Joe Mantello’s directing is an acting feast for the large ensemble. In addition to the cluster of key figures, the play brings on a dozen supporting characters who kick up their heels at Miss Ruby’s exuberant funeral party. There is singing and dancing and much intake of booze, all churning the play toward its intense final scenes and solemn last moment."

Dan Zeff

The Fourth Walsh - Highly Recommended

"...The humor infused drama authentically parallels the ups and downs of life. Remorse is momentarily alleviated as a glimpse of a second chance appears. In the second act, Kate Buddeke (Tanya) and Carolyn Braver (Zoe) have a very, tender, maternal exchange. By this time, we have had a peek into their story making the conversation even more thought-provoking."
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Katy Walsh

  Airline Highway Photo Gallery

   This show has been Jeff Recommended*

*The designation of "Jeff Recommended" is given to a production when at least ONE ELEMENT of the show was deemed outstanding by the Joseph Jefferson Awards Committee.

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