Grounded at Westport Country Playhouse

 “Welcome to Katz Reviews. This is Ed Katz of Katnip Marketing- marketing consultant by day; theater critic by night- with my weekly review segment, Katz Reviews, here for you on WICC 600.

This past weekend I attended Westport Country Playhouse’s production of writer George Brant’s 2012 play, ‘Grounded,’ starring Elizabeth Stahlmann in a remarkably powerful performance as a tough but proud U.S. Air Force pilot.

Stahlmann’s no-nonsense pilot says about her flight suit, “The suit is who I am.” She lives to fly and execute her missions which target, as she calls them, “the guilty”- the “young men of military age” who are enemies of the United States and our troops on the ground in conflict zones far away.

‘Grounded’ is skillfully directed by Liz Diamond on a small space of stage occupying just about 12 feet by 5 feet- but with a smart use of projections on the slatted steel/aluminum-siding looking back wall. The projections let the audience see what the pilot sees on her screens- or thinks she sees. And the projections are handled in a way that lets us see what is happening but the more graphic details are not shown, though they are sometimes described by the pilot.

When the pilot- we never learn her name- meets Eric, she gets pregnant- and grounded. After they get married and she has their baby, she gets a new assignment- as a drone pilot. She still targets “the guilty” in far off places, but now she does it from the comfort of a Naugahyde chair in an air conditioned trailer at a military base outside Las Vegas.

 Elizabeth Stahlmann as The Pilot (photo: Carol Rosegg)

At first the pilot is dismayed at becoming part of, as she derogatorily describes it, “the Chairforce” and she notes, “It doesn’t seem fair. I’m safe. I’m not at risk.”

But she likes that she does her “shift” at the war- as she calls it- and then comes home to her family. And, gradually she gets caught up in her missions, as they ramp up in importance, until she is following an enemy nicknamed “Number 2.”

The tension mounts as her drone follows his vehicle (which we see on her screen) and she waits for him to get out so he can be identified… and executed. As she says, “There is always someone watching.”

But the missions have taken their toll on her when she starts seeing real life looking like the gray video screens she stares at each day on her 12-hour shifts. To help her decompress on her way home from work, she plays the music CD her devoted husband Eric made for her. But when she later plays it to de-stress on her way to work instead and states, “backwards seems right” it is confirmation that, psychologically, she is unraveling.

This is a remarkabe, must-see one woman performance by Elizabeth Stahlmann and also a powerful show and I give Westport Playhouse’s ‘Grounded’ 4-and-a-half stars out of 5. ‘Grounded’ only runs through July 29th. For tickets or more info, visit WestportPlayhouse.org.

  photo: Carol Rosegg

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This is Ed Katz talking theater for WICC 600!”

 

 

 

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