George Brant's

Grounded

February 6 - 22
Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center Rose Firebay

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One-Woman play delves into pilot’s inner thoughts

 

By Joel Pierson H-T Theater columnist

One thing that impresses me about Cardinal Stage Company is that their seasons can ricochet from chestnuts to rogues in a heartbeat.

The chestnuts are the perennial favorites, the standards such as “A Streetcar Named Desire” that everyone knows; I call them the “safe plays,” because if you put them on the menu, everyone’s going to come see them. Then they’ll slip in a rogue — a play that doesn’t have name recognition, one that touches on a touchy subject and dares audience to come check it out.

For an example, I give you “Grounded,” opening this week at the Rose Firebay.

This is not to suggest that George Brant’s award-winning drama isn’t meritorious. In fact, I counted 29 productions of it worldwide since 2013, including one off Broadway. It’s just that neither the play nor the playwright are household names — yet. But with eight awards and counting, I suspect it will soon earn that status.

“Grounded” is a one-woman show. (By which I mean a single actor occupies the stage. Many people work behind the scenes to bring it to life.) She is known to the audience only as “The Pilot,” a hotshot fighter pilot, accustomed to being behind the controls of an F-16 in combat situations.

But then, an unexpected pregnancy grounds her, and after the baby is born, she is reassigned to the “chair force,” piloting military drones from inside a trailer in the Nevada desert. Her work is still important, hunting high-profile terrorist targets — but the change of venue takes its toll on her, and the play explores her thoughts.

The Pilot’s sense of solitude is beautifully portrayed by the single actor alone, giving the audience a chance to interact only with her mind. Like her, we see no one else to keep her company.

Clearly, this is no easy task for an actor, but Greta Wohlrabe is up to the task. She is a Navy kid herself, and as such, she feels a strong connection to the play’s important message. She’s been all over the world, spending recent years in Chicago and Milwaukee, and she’s racked up dozens of acting credits. She also won a Wall Street Journal award for Best Performance in a Play for 2012. Once again, Cardinal has snagged a winning performer for their show.

“Grounded” is very timely in its message, during a time when military drones are becoming a prevalent part of modern warfare. Without launching into a sociopolitical debate in the Arts section, I’ll state that it raises important questions. Do drones protect lives by keeping pilots out of harm’s way, or are they just an excuse, as George Carlin so satirically asked years ago, for our “Nintendo pilots … to go play with their toys in the sand”?

Whatever your personal beliefs about international politics and international relations, “Grounded” will give you plenty to think about. The show contains some adult themes, so parents should be judicious about whether to bring the whole family.