“Airness” Wants To Rock!

Chelsea Marcantel’s play “Airness” at Shadowland Stages is about a national air guitar competition, it’s participants and a young newbie named Nina who wants desperately to rise from the ranks of strivers and posers and triumph as National Champion but who must first achieve airness, that state of flow where you are not just playing air guitar but living it. I’m smiling already.

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Peter Evangelista as D VICIOUS

The play starts off in a Staten Island bar, home of this year’s champion D Vicious (cocky and charismatic Peter Evangelista) who gets a buy from this week’s competition. Performers ready to melt your face off tonight are the athletic and creative Golden Thunder (Tramaine Bembury in the evening’s most accomplished air guitar performances), the romantic Facebender (Justin Pietropaolo), fearsome Cannibal Queen (Kelsey Leland strongly fulfilling her role) and the blue collar Shreddy Eddy (solid and likeable Sean Walsh). Into this parade of personalities and poses walks Nina (lovely and affecting Olivia Miller) taking notes and soaking up knowledge looking to advance quickly.

Of course, we spend all night as the tournament treks across the country to Chicago, San Diego and back to New York with these stage personas and only occasionally get glimpses of the real people behind the masks. There’s a secret in Nina’s past that is angrily motivating her drive and threatening her chances to succeed. We are also brought into the confidence of Facebender when he takes off his wig and reveals his 9-5 job as a public guardian. His working life brings him face to face with the motivation to live life to its fullest as a weekend warrior. The monologue shimmers with specificity and tenderness and is beautifully delivered by Pietropaolo.

The subculture of these rock nerds who have taken a juvenile bedroom pastime and raised it to an art form with its particular set of rules, criteria and prejudices is ridiculously fun and instantly accessible to most audience members that have a passing familiarity to the Classic Rock catalog. The reactions to the song selections are always good for a chuckle, especially “Don’t Stop Believing.” 

Kelsey Leland as Astrid CANNIBAL QUEEN Anderson 1
Kelsey Leland as Astrid, CANNIBAL QUEEN

Within this absurd craft we are somewhat surprised to pick up useful tips like “Don’t let them use you as entertainment,” “It’s not about whether the world needs another air guitarist, it’s about how it makes you feel,” “Everything we need to rock, we have inside of us” and especially “Air guitar comes from a time before you cared about coolness, when you were a kid and just wanted to spaz out.”

Artistic Director Brendan Burke has done a superb job with casting and the technical elements from the stage fog to the arena rock lighting designed by Jeremy Johnson to the terrific costumes designed by Christina English. Indispensable sound design by Jeff Knapp. There are a few simple set pieces of a bar, stage and column that could move quicker as the many transitions are not as seamless as they could be. 

This is a loveable comedy that will plaster a grin on your face from ear to ear and if it doesn’t quite achieve its own standards and definition of airness, you can’t help but have a good time with these imaginative artists.

Thru 6/19 at Shadowland Stages, Tickets: www.shadowlandstages.org

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