Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Grounded
Westport Country Playhouse
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule

Also see Fred's review of Cymbeline and Zander's review of Newsies


Elizabeth Stahlmann
Photo by Carol Rosegg
The Westport Country Playhouse production of George Brant's Grounded, which runs through July 29th, keeps coming back at a theatergoer; it is close to impossible for a critical thinker to leave this one at the final curtain. The 90-minute monologue, with its searing import, is delivered with significant versatility by a gifted young actress named Elizabeth Stahlmann. She recently graduated from Yale School of Drama and is directed at WCP by the Yale Drama Directing Department Chair, Liz Diamond. It is a pleasure to report that this production hums consistently. Grounded, however disquieting and disturbing, is also insightfully sustaining.

Stahlmann appears on an open stage (slatted backdrop behind her) as a youthful, happy air force pilot. Known in the play only as The Pilot, she loves her uniform, she loves the sky blue hue which accompanies her on missions. She has had an exciting time of it—in the air above the ground (perhaps in Afghanistan or Iraq). The attractive woman meets someone named Eric, sleeps with him, and is soon pregnant. Her world changes forever.

She loves her child, but at some point receives another assignment, this one in Las Vegas. Each day, she will drive from her home, arrive in the desert, sit in a trailer, operate buttons and switches—presumably, which enable drones to end the lives of those labeled enemies.

Director Diamond, set designer Riccardo Hernandez, and projection designer Yana Birÿkova collaborate to create images, grids, and more—which appear in multiple fashion on the screening, which dwarfs, from the rear, actress Stahlmann. Her life takes the better of her as she becomes increasingly upset with her new role and its ramifications. She is now able to view the results of her day job; previously, while in the air, she could not perceive what she had wrought.

The Pilot is no longer free. Instead, she is an assassin. She takes home her multitude of emotions, and her relationship with Eric suffers. Grounded becomes increasingly harrowing and haunting. The Pilot, once an emancipated woman who spent time, literally, up in the air, now operates in a world where others very much control her station and function within the military. It is through the technology of video projection that, as a "chair force" person, she, through her work, kills others.

George Brant laces his play with symbolism, should the viewer wish to ponder in that mode. If not, his words are potent in their own right. Either way, the theme of the piece leads to further contemplation; that much is inevitable. I might have suggested an edit on "the F-word." Utilized too frequently, it loses impact and effectiveness. Brant's scripting, for the most part, moves with fluidity from one section of The Pilot's journey to the next.

Stahlmann, giving notice of her talent, is increasingly agitated and fittingly emotional during her hour and a half on stage. Her command is complete and she demonstrates terrific range. At first, he Pilot is a fresh-looking woman who just adores her outfit (provided by Jennifer Moeller). Her life is complicated as becomes indelibly connected to and with her husband and daughter. The actress fuses her own persona with that of the character. Grounded sometimes dictates that the performer remain stationary, while at other times the role is physically demanding. Liz Diamond, a teacher, helps with the details. Stahlmann's embodiment, impressive at the beginning, becomes even more inspiring as the play hurtles towards its final moments. Mastering the monologue is, by itself, commendable.

Grounded addresses the warfare of our electronic age through realistic drama. It is troubling, it is contemporary and, probably, it implies that further drone casualties, as givens, cannot be avoided.

Grounded continues at Westport Country Playhouse in Westport, Connecticut, through July 29th, 2017. For tickets, call (203) 227-4177 or visit www.westportplayhouse.org


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