Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Theater Review: Grounded -- Westport

Elizabeth Stahlmann. Photo: Carol Rosegg
By George Brandt
Directed by Liz Diamond
Westport Country Playhouse
Through July 29

What's It All About?
The 2016 Lucille Lortel Award-winning play by George Brandt (Marie and Rosetta),about a US Air Force fighter pilot who is grounded after becoming pregnant (the play also received a Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and was short-listed for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award.)

Elizabeth Stahlmann, a recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama, delivers a powerful performance as the pilot coping with the emotional difficulty of a woman balancing career and family, as well as being a human trying to justify killing people for a living.

The pilot, who defines herself by her occupation, is tough as nails and when she's not flying her F-16 Tiger jet to take out enemies in the desert, she's enjoying a round of celebratory drinks with the boys and dreaming of her next opportunity to be up in the "big blue."  When she meets Eric, passion turns into a flight suit that no longer fits and reassignment to flying drones. The play explores the character's emotions as the pilot tries to adjust to family commitment while being unable to detach herself from her desire to be in the sky or the stresses of carrying out attacks against enemies who drive SUVs like hers and have children who look like her daughter.

What Are the Highlights?
Stahimann give a gripping, stand-out performances showing layers (sometimes not so pretty) of a person in turmoil. Tight direction by Liz Diamond propels the storytelling, transforming a space with a single chair from a car to a cockpit to the bedroom of a sleeping daughter.

What Are the Lowlights?
While Brandt's play attempts to preach the message that we are all the same in the end, it's really hard to relate to this character and brings home the thought that she probably isn't someone to whom most of the audience will be able to relate. She's a soldier who apparently loathes feminine women, vowing that her daughter will not grow up to be a "hair tosser" or cheerleader. The fact that her little girl wants to play with ponies instead of military planes aggravates her. The most sympathetic character is the husband -- sympathetic and understanding of his wife's long hours and work-related stress, a marvelous dad, turned on by a successful, strong woman -- if he were real, he would be the number one-catch for husband in America. I couldn't help but wonder what the story, told by a female playwright, might have been like.

More Information:Grounded has been commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera to be adapted into an opera with music by Tony Award winner Jeanine Tesori, and is being developed into a feature film starring Anne Hathaway. who played the pilot in the Off-Broadway production of the play in 2015.
Additional credits: Riccardo Hernandez, scenic design (he designed the Off-Broadway production of the play); Jennifer Moeller, costume design; Solomon Weisbard, lighting design; Kate Marvin, sound design.
Performances are at Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport through July 29 Tuesday at 7 pm; Wednesday at 2 and 8 pm; Thursday and Friday at 8 pm Saturday at 3 and 8pm. westportplayhouse.org; (203) 227-4177

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)
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