click to enlarge Greta Wohlrabe as The Pilot in Cardinal Stage Company's Grounded.

Greta Wohlrabe as The Pilot in Cardinal Stage Company's Grounded.

Review: Cardinal Stage Company's Grounded 

One of my favorite lines from George Brant's Grounded — a Cardinal Stage Company production playing through Feb. 22 at Bloomington's Waldron Arts Center — goes something like “the Odyssey would be a completely different book if the hero went home every night.”

The hero of Grounded says as much when she returns to military life after an unexpected three-year maternity leave, only to find that the F-16 planes she used to fly have been replaced by drones. No longer will she be deployed around the world for a year at a time. No longer will she spend her days up in "The Blue" that she loves. If she still wants to be useful, let alone the “top shit” that she was before, she will live in a Las Vegas suburb, say goodbye to her husband and child every morning, sit in a chair in a windowless room for 12 hours watching a screen, and drive home across the Nevada desert again every night.

For a while she makes it work, even though it adversely affects everything from her sex life to her professional judgment.

This play was chosen for a 2012 Rolling World Premiere by the National New Play Network and won the NNPN’s Smith Prize for a new play on American political themes. It is depressing but powerful.

And it's worth the trip for Indianapolis theatergoers because Greta Wohlrabe, under the direction of Stephen John, gives a masterful portrayal of The Pilot. You forget that you are watching an actor. She tells her story in present tense from a small platform in the tiny Rose Firebay black box space in the Waldron Arts Center. You feel as if you are living The Pilot’s journey with her.

Yet it is a true theatre piece, not a traditional storytelling piece. Kate Ashton’s lighting design incorporates lights under the platform as well as above and around it. Two screens behind the platform let us see some of the same things the major does and bits of music and other sounds enrich the piece even further. The Pilot’s flight suit and “chair force” pin are essential costume elements. Everything flows together well with the solo actor’s movements. (Harrison Haug is projection designer. Mike Price is sound/tech advisor. Tiffany Lutz is stage manager.)

Beyond the war-related questions Grounded brings up, which are complex, it offers good food for thought about change in general and being present.

Logistical tips: There is plenty of metered parking around 1st and Walnut but the small parking garage across the street from the Ivy Tech John Waldron Arts Center is free on the weekends and after 6 p.m. on weekdays. The intimate Rose Firebay space is on the ground floor, so go to the side entrance, not the main entrance with the big stone steps. After the show you can walk up the hill to the Trojan Horse for gyros and "dolmasalata" since it stays open until midnight on Friday and Saturday.

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