|From left, John Lamb, Same Kebede, Peter Story and Josh Bonzie |
are air-guitar rockers in B Street Theatre's “Airness.”
Rudy Meyers Photography/Courtesy photo
How much, if anything, do you know about the art of the air guitar? You have probably seen someone pretending to play the guitar, without an instrument, but is it really “air guitar.”
Chelsea Marcantel, the author of a play called “Airness,” now at B Street Theatre’s “The Sofia,” is not an air guitarist and admits that she had no idea such a thing existed, and when she learned of it thought, “This is the dumbest thing in the world.” As she learned more, she began to appreciate the performance art and “fell in love with that world.”
So don’t discount this fun play out of hand because you think you know what it will be like. I, too, thought this was “the dumbest thing in the world,” but feel like I had a master class in that world watching “Airness.” I won’t say I’m a convert, but I certainly have a new appreciation for the art than I did before seeing this show.
U.S. Air Guitar is the national association of air-guitar artists, whose mission is to send American representation to the International Air Guitar Competition in Finland each year. Competitions are held in a dozen or so cities around the country, each of which picks a winner to join with the other winners and travel to Finland to compete in the final. (Why Finland? Who knows?!)
We meet Nina (Stephanie Altholz), a real guitarist trying to get over a broken heart, who decides to compete in the Chicago competition and figures she has an edge because she already knows how to play the guitar, but she learns from Shreddy Eddy (Peter Story), Golden Thunder (Sam Kebede), Facebender (John Lamb) and Cannibal Queen (Tara Sissom) that air guitar is much more than just pretending to play a guitar. It’s the ability to translate your dreams of becoming a rock star, in 60 seconds, into something that the audience can see and rock out to.
What may seem ridiculous on the surface has real depth and artistry and Nina is having a difficult time grasping that. But she begins to bond with the little community. “We are all each other’s biggest fans.”
Kebede sparkles as Golden Thunder, in his shopworn golden cape and unfailing bravado. His acts get grander and grander, most memorable in his salute to the American flag. Try to forget that!
Lamb is perhaps the heart of the story, the oldest of the group who gets his personal self-worth from what he does, be-wigged, on the air-guitar stage, since he doesn’t get it in his off-stage life.
In his Facebender persona, he speaks in sonnets, which disappear when the costume comes off. His daughter has never seen him perform and the thought of her coming is enough to send him into an apoplexy of anxiety.
Sissom delivers a sizzling performance as Cannibal Queen. She has fought to be considered an equal among these men — and she has. Her performances ooze power.
She and Nina are oil and water from the start, since she is now dating the man who broke Nina’s heart, and what she teaches Nina about that relationship will shape her future as an air guitarist.
Peter Story’s Shreddy Eddy is fairly low-key, as he becomes a mentor for Nina but when he lets rip on stage, he’s unstoppable. “We share the common dedication of the air guitar world: to share world peace.”
Josh Bonzie is David D’Vicious, the reigning king of the air-guitar world, and Nina’s ex. He strides on stage with bravado, knowing he is the king and will be the king. Bonzie delivers a powerful performance and shows how brutal competition can be.
A search through the program reveals that Wade McKenzie-Bahr and Dylan Ballesteros are the theater technicians, who made the many scene changes so much fun and really were almost as much a part of the play as the actors themselves.
They say that we can keep our brains active by learning a new thing every day. Do yourself a favor by heading to The Sofia and learning about air guitar. You’ll have great fun in the process.
On June 9, B Street is hosting an official US Air Guitar Qualifier in Upstairs at the B. The winner will head to Brooklyn, N.Y., and attempt to win the national championship.
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