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The Common Air

AIR In his solo performance The Common Air (co-written with director Robert McCaskill), running at Hollywood's Asylum Theatre, Alex Lyras plays a series of travelers in the environs of JFK during a terrorist bomb scare that leaves most of them stranded. In a pro forma technique for solo shows set in airports, six characters in search of an airplane intersect through fleeting conversations while waiting to depart to various stations in life. Lyras plays the all-male sextet with precision, distinction and dazzling intellect. An immigrant Iraqi cabby in a tank top waxes poetic, celebrating America's cavalier "disregard of abundance" as well as his own, imaginary reality-TV show. Through all this, he wipes his armpits and blows his nose with the same kerchief. In gridlock, he dances in the street. Seconds later, Lyras' pristinely coifed and manicured art trader named the Dealer serves up worldly erudition, reminiscing and rationalizing how he once fled while his partner was beaten into a vegetative state during a gay-bashing incident, and how our narrator abandoned his so-called friend to a drooling fate. The Champion is a lawyer who serves up a justification for situational ethics while championing the cause of a white rapper/DJ whom he just met, named The Spinner (we'll see him next). The Spinner is being sued for copyright infringement after using the content of an audiotape he found in a trash canister — content he remixed into a hit. Explains The Champion, "This composer threw the tapes in the trash... Where I come from, that's intent to discontinue use." Lyras has been performing the show for years, and that time spent with it shows in the crispness of each subject's definitive idiosyncrasies, and in the absence of blurring between characters — all delicately enhanced by Ken Rich's original score and sound design. The Common Air is richer than Danny Hoch's or Eric Bogosian's solo showcases because it cuts beneath a reliance on mere character and poeticism in reporting on life. What Lyras discovers is a philosophy of global solipsism summed up in The Champion's staccato speech: "CNN told me [it] has no idea what's real; entire airport's transfixed [into] a television set; they're making it up as they go." Each character has some refrain about inventing his own reality, my favorite being that of The Signifier, a West Texan donning a beret (having just returned with his son Tyler from Paris), who, through a yokel's drawl chastising young "Taahler" for spending his life attached to digital interface, reveals that he holds a chair in philosophy at University of Texas, Austin. "'We're working hard ta pervide ya with infermation.' I interpret that to mean, 'We don't kknow what the hail's going on. Stop askin' ivry five minutes.'" Invented reality reaches far beyond words, The Signifier adds: "The whole airport's a simulation. The checkpoints, the X-rays, the National Guawrd. We all know they don't really stop innibahdy. They're a symbol of a barrier." Somehow, The Signifier gets this all in between blithely aggressive cell-phone calls to his ex-wife, punctuated by tag-team hang-ups, over custody of Tyler. "Look, you create whutever reality you need to, dahrlin," he tells her. "I'm over here creatin' my own. Wanna switch?" There's no fear of digital technology further distracting Tyler — or us — from "reality," he suggests. Such distraction started eons ago with language itself, our first attempt to make it all up as we go along; words are "signifiers," or road signs, around which we create the roads. Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Fridays, Saturdays, 8 p.m. Starts: Feb. 1. Continues through April 26, 2008

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