BWW Review: Seattle Public's GROUNDED Soars into the Blue
Anytime a theater does a one person show it's a risky proposition. You, of course, need the right piece. You need a good set that doesn't detract from the lone performer on stage. You need good direction of that performer so it doesn't feel too static. And most importantly, you need a performer who can grab ahold of the audience right away and lead them on their journey. Well lucky for Seattle Public Theater and for us, they have all those things and then some with their current production of "Grounded", a production that will shake you to your core.
George Brant's play focuses on a woman we only ever come to know as The Pilot (Mahria Zook), a fighter pilot with the US Air Force. Through skill and determination, she's worked her way into the male dominated ranks and become one of the best fighter pilots they have, delivering bombs over Iraq. But when an unexpected pregnancy comes along The Pilot is forced to give up what she loves in order to care for the new life in her world. Eventually her daughter is born and it's time to return to duty but instead of going back into the blue herself she is tasked with flying drones over her targets from a trailer in Las Vegas. This amounts for a much happier family life until the grey world she watches on her drone screen begins to invade her real world making it difficult for her to discern her job from her family.
The play itself is a beautiful journey into the mind of The Pilot and director Kelly Kitchens keeps the pace going while never letting the journey become too static by making sure she isn't stuck in the lone chair on stage that makes up much of the set by Julia Hayes Welch. A chair that's accompanied by a gorgeous array of fringe clouds on which they project scenes from her life as well as her view from the chair on her missions. Too often projections lately have become overused in pieces as they're so much easier to come by. But here Projections Designer Ahren Buhmann has only aided in making the story come alive without ever distracting. And the feats he has accomplished with the mission projections are superb and there was never a question as to what we were seeing (as horrible as they may be).
But of course, the real star of the piece is Zook who manages to get the audience on her side and engaged as soon as she opens her mouth. She then proceeds through an arc that is equal parts funny, sweet, and terrifying. No matter your political leanings or your viewpoints on war she keeps you on her side and truly explores all sides of the issue through the lens of the story. And her descent into her blurred world as the show wears on is a sight to behold.
Shows like this and specifically performances like this are why we go see theater. Every now and again we see something this stunning that stays with us long after the show is over. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give Seattle Public Theater's "Grounded" a deeply touched and a little shaken YAY+. I urge you to catch this one so you too can witness a superb production with a stunning performance before it soars off into the blue.
"Grounded" performs at Seattle Public Theater through April 16th. For tickets or information visit them online at www.seattlepublictheater.org.