The psychological damage war imposes on military personnel is the subject of George Brant’s 2012 play, “Grounded.” The one-woman show goes inside the head of a fighter pilot whose bombing raids in Iraq have had a dehumanizing effect, changing only when a new assignment forces her to face a life-altering moral dilemma. Sonorous Road Productions’ compelling staging indicates the professional level that this newly formed theater can offer.
The unnamed pilot, dressed in her flight suit, tells the audience about her life. Feisty and boastful, she’s been the envy of her fellow F-16 pilots for her expertise and cool concentration. She loves her job, but after falling for a guy she meets in a bar while home on leave, things change dramatically. She married him and has a daughter, but when she returns to the job, she’s re-assigned to a remote facility in Nevada to fly drone missions at a computer screen, targeting enemy convoys half a world away.
Although this means she can come home to her family every night, she’s unhappy that she can’t be up in the blue where she feels in full control. Soon, however, she’s channeling her energies into a top-level mission to follow the transport of the enemy’s number two leader. Her increasing obsession with being the one to take out this prime target begins to affect her home life and threaten her mental stability.
Brant’s script asks the performer to portray a wide range of emotions and character traits in an 80-minute, non-stop rollercoaster ride. Michelle Murray Wells proves up to the task, establishing a likable persona, then gradually revealing her flaws and conflicts as the pilot charts a descent into disturbing defenses for her actions.
Wells makes the other characters in the pilot’s story, whom she often is asked to voice and physicalize, come vividly to life. She confidently plays both the humor and the horror inherent in the demands on such a pilot. Wells works up to the climatic finish with skill, a performance that will likely deepen further as the run continues.
Director Jerome Davis paces the piece tightly with admirable precision, enhanced by Matthew Adelson’s stark, clinical lighting and Shelley Snapp’s edgy, ominous sound design.
The play speaks eloquently to the costs of war to military and family, along with raising troubling questions about justifying war’s carnage. Sonorous Road Productions’ fine presentation and comfortable new venue make it easy to anticipate further satisfying evenings from the company.
Where: Sonorous Road Productions, 209 Oberlin Road, Raleigh
When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 11-12, 18-19; 2 p.m. Dec. 13, 20
Tickets: $22 (students/seniors $18, military $14)
Info: 919-803-3798 or sonorousroad.com