“People must keep their hands busy, or they’re going to end up with the wrong thing in their hands … the wrong woman’s behind.” –Miss Ruby
The Southern Rep Theatre’s Airline Highway is the story of a loveable bunch of misfits who live in a divey hotel called the Hummingbird on Airline Highway in our very own New Orleans. They all have a sordid tale to tell of what brought them where they are—a rough childhood, a bad relationship, falling on hard times, a cocaine nosebleed, working the pole to make ends meet, daddy issues…
The glue that holds the group together—their queen and “angel”—is Miss Ruby. She used to own a prosperous nightclub until the bank repossessed it and simultaneously broke her heart. Now Miss Ruby is terminally ill with “fluid in her lungs,” which keeps her laid up and confined to her hotel room for much of the play. Meanwhile, all of her friends and cohorts—her beloved flock of “puffy, bright yellow, baby, non-gendered little duckies,” as she affectionately calls them, are in the process of planning her funeral. Though she’s still very much alive (for now), Miss Ruby wants to attend her own funeral to hear all the kind things the duckies have to say about her. Besides, it’s New Orleans and it’s a good excuse to party.
The New Orleans theme is prevalent throughout, which gives the show a nice hometown, local feel: there is Popeye’s chicken, Zatarain’s chips and talk of Jazz Fest, and the cast wears beads, boas, tutus, a penis necklace straight off of Bourbon Street … Wayne wears a red-beans-and-rice-patterned “Bayou Wear” Jazz Fest button-down, and Terry dons a “Katrina, you bitch!” t-shirt. As the director, Aimée Hayes said, “It is a true thing that New Orleanians love to see plays about New Orleans.”
Besides being able to relate to the location and culture connected to it, it’s hard not to get caught up in the interpersonal relationships and turmoil of this group of “addicts, hos, super-hos and strippers,” and find a character to love. The story is both entertaining and touching, full of drama, humor, and sentiment. The talented cast knows how to sing as well as act, and they definitely know how to entertain.
This play is not for the squeamish or the easily offended, but it is for anyone looking to forget their troubles (and focus on someone else’s) and have a good time for a couple hours. (Then again, as one of the characters sorrowfully mentions, “Happiness is overrated.”)
You’ll leave the theater amused, impressed … and probably craving refreshments, after watching the gang eat chips and do Jäger bombs for two acts. A fun and highly recommended show.