While Sonorous Road prepares for the opening of their new theater space in the Royal Bakery Building on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, founder Michelle Murray Wells treats us to a stunner of a one-woman show at Raleigh Little Theatre. The play, Grounded by George Brant, tells the tale of a present-day career military woman who has achieved the pretty spectacular role of an F-16 Flying Ace, and the rank of Major, in the U. S. Air Force. When we meet the Pilot, she's at the top of her game, and spends her evenings chumming with the other pilots of her unit. On one particular evening, she is approached by a young man who shows a particularly keen interest, and she takes him home. This is Eric, and he turns out to be pretty spectacular, too.
Grounded is directed by Burning Coal's Jerome Davis, who places the Pilot in a white square in the middle of a blue-carpeted stage in the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theater at RLT. This presages a dramatic turn of events in the career of our pilot. Things have happened pretty fast: Eric has turned out to be The One, and the Pilot is grounded temporarily while she has their first child, Samantha ("Sam"). When she returns to active duty, she is stunned to learn that she has been reassigned to a base outside Las Vegas, Creech AFB, where she is grounded for a second time. She now pilots a drone, what her CO has called a "Reaper," a remote-controlled unmanned vehicle. On the plus side, she no longer gets deployed; while her aircraft is flying overseas in the Arabian deserts, her locale is one long hour outside Las Vegas, in the deserts of Nevada. On the minus side, she no longer gets to fly. Her new post is 12 hours a day, flying a craft half a world away. She no longer looks out; her aim is directed down, looking at the desert over which she flies, which appears on a black-and-white screen eighteen inches wide.
Wells captured our imaginations and kept us with her, at one point even climbing into the audience and taking a seat, as if chatting with the audience members. She was our sole focus, and she never let go. Clad head-to-toe in an army-green flight suit, Wells carried us with her everywhere she went; and she made the Pilot's loss at no longer being able to fly palpable.
Time is compressed in this show; Sam is now five, and goes to day-care; Eric works as a dealer in a casino in town. She continues to fly her drone, using its multiple armaments to strike at the enemy. She has a team, an "earful of back-seat drivers," and together they patrol the desert. She is surprised to learn that, even though she is so far removed from the action, she still gets white-knuckled with excitement at the prospect of a strike. But all is not well in the deserts of Nevada. Beneath the flight-suit she still wears, the cracks are beginning to show.
Grounded is presented by Raleigh Little Theatre as part of their "Women and War" series; Wells hopes that this production sparks increased awareness for the men and women of the armed services and their families.
Sonorous Road will be opening their newly renovated theater this coming weekend, June 2-4. You can find a full listing of activities running all weekend at SonorousRoad.com/reopening.