Sonorous Road Productions’ latest offering, Grounded by George Brant, is a stunning journey into the psyche of a female U.S. Air Force fighter-pilot (played by Sonorous Road’s founder and artistic director Michelle Murray Wells). We are never told her name. She is simply known as “The Pilot”; and as she stands alone on the stage, all angles and precision, eyes piercing us like a hawk, she recounts the story of how, through “sweat, tears, and guts”, she earned her uniform and took to the sky. It’s a riveting 90 minute stream-of-consciousness confession. It’s extraordinary.
When you enter the theater, the set is bare. A white square in center stage contains a single rolling office chair and bottle of water. When the show starts, The Pilot stands at attention just off center stage. She marches to the fore and then lays her soul bare.
We feel the steel within her, the courage, the drive. Like the Tiger she flies, the story explodes off the stage, and you can feel the G-forces on your face. You have to hold on to your chair as The Pilot, breathless at times, flies us through her life. Flying is who she is. She is strong. She is independent. As she explains, “She is The Blue.”
We learn that although most men are intimidated by a woman pilot, she meets a man who is not intimidated by her. Eric. She gets pregnant, and suddenly life becomes more complicated.
Flying would kill the baby. The Pilot is grounded. Grounded! She dreams of getting back to the sky. When she comes back from maternity leave, the service has changed. Technology has changed. She is told that she is not going to get to back in the cockpit. No, she is assigned to what the boys call the “Chairforce.”
The Pilot will be sitting at a desk in a dark trailer, seven days a week, for 12-hour shifts, watching a screen, flying a drone via camera. It’s flying, yet it’s not. It’s not dangerous. It’s war as shiftwork. And it’s not The Blue!
Grounded is a story for the ages, and yet it is not. The Pilot is an extraordinary woman, in an extraordinary occupation; and yet her struggle is a timeless one.
Women through the ages have juggled career and family, or have found their career paths changed when they return from maternity leave. But here, in the testosterone-driven world that The Pilot chose for her career, being pulled from the sky, the place where she was herself, causes her world to start going into a tailspin.
She tries to convince herself that it is for the best, but we know that she does not believe it. And ultimately we watch The Pilot start screaming towards the ground, helpless to stop her decent.
Director Jerome Davis handles the production with the right touch. Lighting designer Matthew Adelson and his crew hit the mark, too. Watch how the lighting really mirrors The Pilot’s state of mind when her intensity escalates. Her white-knuckle moments are emphasized beautifully, and Shelley Snapp’s sound choices are subtle and enhance the show perfectly.
But the accolades must go to a spectacular Michelle Murray Wells. She recently returned to her Raleigh hometown and opened the Sonorous Road Productions film and theater studio after stints in Boston and London. Her rendering of The Pilot’s life is a seamless revelation. And her theater is gorgeous, too. Raleigh is fortunate that her plane landed at RDU.
This show is not to be missed. Fly over to 209 Oberlin Rd. in Raleigh before it’s gone.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 11th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article49282425.html; and Dec. 2nd Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Byron Woods: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/grounded/Event?oid=4895991. (Note: To read Triangle Arts and Entertainment’s online version of the Dec. 11th Triangle Review review by Martha Keravuori and Chuck Galle, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2015/12/george-brants-grounded-starring-michelle-murray-wells-deserves-much-larger-audiences/.)
Sonorous Road Productions presents GROUNDED at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11 and 12, 2 p.m. Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18 and 19, and 2 p.m. Dec. 20 at 209 Oberlin Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina 27605.
TICKETS: $22 ($18 students and seniors and $14 active-duty military personnel), including fees.
BOX OFFICE: 919-803-3798 or http://sonorousroad.ticketleap.com/grounded/.
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
Jerome Davis (Raleigh director and co-founder and artistic director of Burning Coal Theatre Company) http://burningcoal.org/jerome-davis/#more-1659 (Burning Coal bio) and https://www.facebook.com/jerome.davis.5686 (Facebook page).
Michelle Murray Wells (Cary actress and founder and artistic director of Sonorous Road Productions) http://www.sonorousroad.com/staff/ (Sonorous Road bio) and https://www.facebook.com/michelle.m.wells.9 (Facebook page).
EDITOR’S NOTE: Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.