By Wesley James
Though a deeply flawed piece, Pride Arts Center’s production of Grounded is deep, deliberate, and emotionally compelling. The very nature of hard work, particularly in the arts, is to open itself up to criticism – there is no shortage of hard work in this production, and those places where it misses the mark are not any contributors’ failing.
Grounded follows the life of a fiery fighter pilot who, returning from maternity leave, is reassigned to remote controlling drones from a base in Nevada. The play follows her experiences and mental decline in the face of such cold work, long hours, and lack of separation between work and home. The story is told chronologically, from the pilots’ point of view, with fond commentary and character exposition thrown in. A one-woman show, this script suffers a few very serious shortcomings, namely static tone and inability to hold interest; once again, the writing of this play has every indication of hard work, it simply lacks the variety or conventional twists that make solo performances engaging. The conclusion branches off into an almost welcome surrealism as the protagonists’ sanity progressively degrades, but the high intensity of the climax coupled with the overall singular tone begins to toe the line of melodrama.
This production covers an extremely sensitive and emotionally dark concept, and it stands to reason that we should feel the depths and effects of that concept as we walk away. I think the problem with Grounded is that it’s the result of a perfect storm: that every artistic contribution was made with the intent to make us live in this world, feel the effects of the boredom, the long hours, the twisted victories, the mental and physical and emotional tedium. The result is visceral and personal and poignant, but also detaching, and ghoulish. It seems we start in the world of hopelessness and only wind our way down deeper – perhaps the performance is too method, the direction too slanted, but the fire and zeal of our protagonist seems only remembered, snuffed even before it’s introduced. This issue is hard to diagnose because it is a great performance – wholly believable, committed, brave and varied and hard and true. It’s simply all so dark, all the way across, that we run the risk of losing focus or immersion.
It can’t be overstated that thoughtful critique can only be borne of hard work, and that this play is neither a bust nor a disappointment. It leaves us working, and problem solving, and thinking hard and feeling deeply, all of which are signs of good art. It is, at the very least, a talented performer committing fully to a hard role and giving us much in return.
Grounded is running at the Pride Arts Center. More information: http://www.theaterofthought.com/