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A CurtainUp Review
The Common Air
Common Air Now a Full Off-Broadway Production

Alex Lyras
Alex Lyrus
As most regular Curtainup readers know, I'm not a major fan of the solo play. However, I've come across a few that overcome my reservations and The Common Air is very much one of them. It's uncommonly well acted and scripted.

What in the hands of a less skilled actor than Alex Lyras might be six very loosely connected comic character sketches. But Lyras and his writing partner and director Robert McCaskill give us a group portrait with a strong enough unifying theme to make The Common Air work as a full-fledged play. The characters are not only connected with uncommon skill but are all uncommonly engaging and, as Paulanne Simmons noted in her review of the original showcase that's now re-opened with a full off-Broadway schedule, watching Lyras segue from one insightful and entertaining character to the next does indeed "prove that we live in the same world, subject to the same foibles of humankind."

Not having seen The Common Air's original run, I can't say if there have been any changes in the script. However, everything seemed to be exactly as Paulanne described it and remains thoroughly enjoyable. Lyras's performance definitely lfits into the tour de force category The characters are quirky but never cartoony, the accents are right on the mark, and the transitions are handled with subtleness and precision.

The two aspects of the production that call for additional comments are to give a special shout out to Ken Rich's original score and sound design which adds enhances the mood beautifully and organically. The producers have also invested in a new set design by Casey Smith. It's still simple as befits this venue, but it's sophisticated enough to ramp up the theatricality.

Judging from the audience's enthusiastic response, not just at the end, but as each character made room for the next, bringing this play back to reach a larger audience was definitely a good idea. I, for one, am glad to have had a chance to catch up with it.

The Common Air By Alex Lyras & Robert McCaskill
Performed by Alex Lyras
Directed by Robert McCaskill
Original Score Composer: Ken Rich
Set Designer: Casey Smith
Lighting Designer: Perchik Kreiman-Miller
Running Time: 85 minutes, no intermission
Bleecker Street Theatre 45 Bleecker Street 212/239-6200
Reopened 4/07/10; opening 4/14/10; booking through 5/30/10--extended to 6/27/10
Wed-Sat 8pm; Sundays at 4pm
Tickets: $49.50 & $56.50 (212) 239-6200
Re-reviewed by Elyse Sommer 4/13/10
Original Review by Paulanne Simmones during the play's showcase run
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Heroes are people who don't know they are in danger. —The Dealer
In Alex Lyras and Robert McCaskill's entertaining and insightful The Common Air, six interconnected characters, all involved in a major JFK airport delay, prove that we all do indeed live in the same world, subject to the same foibles of humankind.

The six characters are an Iraqi cab driver (The Immigrant), who dreams of starting his own reality show; a gay art gallery owner (The Dealer), who has fallen in love with Greek cave art; a womanizing lawyer (The Champion) of doubtful professional ethics; a DJ named PJ (The Spinner), who has been accused of stealing another performer's work; a soon-to-be divorced professor (The Signifier) returning to Texas from a vacation with his young son, who is addicted to Grand Theft Auto, and an Iraqi-American (The American), who had been a catering contractor working for the US government in Baghdad.

Each character tells his story to the character next in the lineup. Thus the cab driver takes the gallery owner to the airport, the gallery owner tells his story of an abandoned lover to the lawyer, the lawyer counsels the music producer how to get out of his mess, and the music producer discusses his problem with the professor, who takes respectful notice of the returning contractor. In the last scene the Iraqi-American confesses to the very same cab driver who had taken the art gallery owner to the airport.

The characters are dressed appropriately (the DJ in a leather vest, the professor in a cowboy hat and boots). Lyras executes wardrobe changes backstage while video signs and an unseen announcer reveal the status of the delay.

With the help of Lyras and McCaskill's evocative words and McCaskill's deft direction, Lyras creates a separate and totally convincing reality for each of his characters. Each has his own narrative and his own style in delivering it. The narratives depict what happens when their psyches come up against circumstances that are both random and created self-induced.

Airports, train stations and highway rest stops, the perfect places for chance meetings, have all been used many times as a setting where people pour out their hearts and try to get rid of their psychic baggage. But seldom is this done so well and with such simple elegance as in The Common Air.

Lyas's performance is remarkably fluid. It is a compelling tour de force that never lets up or lets the audience down. McCaskill builds scenes upon scene with implacable intensity. The ending is unpredictable yet thoroughly satisfying, and in retrospect, perhaps inevitable. The Common Air is the perfect example of what happens when two creative talents work together and let their imagination take flight.

Editor's Note: The showcase, weekend only production was reviewed by Paulanne Simmons on January 22nd, also at the Bleeker Street Downstairs theater, with a somewhat more basic set design by Dana Bower, and tickets also more modestly priced at $35.
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