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Grounded: One-woman’s story makes for hard-hitting, emotional theater production

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Why did Artistic Director Eli Carpenter choose an intense, powerful, totally gripping play like George Brant’s Grounded to kick off SCRT’s 2019 Summer Professional Theatre?    

“Because I saw it in New York with Anne Hathaway, I fell in love with it, and knew it would be great for Trinidad,” he stated, “and we had the perfect actress in Kayla Ryan Walsh to put this one-person show across.”    

He was right.  Not very many actors could hold people enraptured for 85 straight minutes of monologue, especially when the story is hard-hitting and very emotional.      

On Opening Night, our Trinidad audience declared it a stunningly successful piece of theatre.

This narrative of a female fighter pilot’s increasingly disorienting daily tug of war between her mission to destroy enemy life and the comforting support of her own domestic life is so well portrayed on stage by master storyteller Kayla, that the audience is held spellbound throughout the no-intermission play.      

When it ends, theatergoers feel like they have visited an alternate reality so intense that the ordinary world outside seems different from before.     

The pilot begins this theatrical journey as a cocky “rock star” fighter pilot, enraptured by the freedom of the blue sky, who wears her flight suit as an achievement, a badge of her identity.  She loves the power to destroy buildings and enemy military by raining down bombs, with no thought to “collateral damage,” because these are the bad guys and we are at war.

On leave in Wyoming, she meets an extraordinary man, falls in love and gives birth to a daughter, Samantha, “Sam,” hoping that Sam will also love the Blue, the freedom of the sky.  Love for her daughter is a powerful connection and also her disorienting vulnerability.    

Upon return to duty from maternity leave, the pilot is reassigned to the  “Chair Force,” operating a drone to kill Men of Military Age who might harm our soldiers in convoys.      

Initially, she celebrates the killings as military achievements.  However, the ritual of going home to her husband and child every night creates a tug of war between these two worlds: the blue of her domestic joy and the gray of the desert as seen on her drone’s video screen.    

This dramatic play builds in intensity as the two worlds begin to collide in a gripping climax, during which Kayla Ryan Walsh carries the audience with her into the Pilot’s disintegrating world. So intense is the ending that theatergoers, upon emerging from the show find their normal reality different from before.    

Kayla Ryan Walsh is a master of theatrical expression able to express many layers of sensitivity through her characterization. Her diction is impeccable, her projection clear, and her very presence is commanding.    

Given nothing for props but a chair and a helmet in a box-like environment of lighted poles, she creates a mesmerizing environment that increases in intensity as the story progresses.  Kayla’s stellar performance as the Pilot reflects the grueling, emotional preparation she must have undertaken to perfect this multi-layered role.    

Assisted by the sensitive direction of SCRT Artistic Director Eli Carpenter, with mood enhancing Lighting and Sound by G. Austin Allen, Stage Manager Andie Burns and Costume Designer Nicole Harrison, this show begins the SCRT season on a professional level that bodes well for the quality of the entire summer.    

Following the opening of Grounded, a beautiful Musical The Last Five Years, will open on Friday, July 12.  The third show will be an Alfred Hitchcock comedy The 39 Steps, which will open July 26.  All three shows will be produced in repertory over the course of the summer, so there will be many opportunities to see and revisit them for your enjoyment.

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