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Q&A: Being "Grounded" at Ensemble Theatre

An unexpected pregnancy ends an ace fighter pilot’s career in the sky.

She’s Grounded, and in Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s regional premiere of the unsettling solo play, the cocky (unnamed) pilot is reassigned to operate remote-controlled military drones in the Middle East from a windowless trailer outside Las Vegas.  

Cincinnati native Kathleen Wise makes her ETC debut as the woman who finds herself struggling to navigate dual identities as she hunts terrorists by day and returns to her family each night.

Michael Haney directs – always a good reason to buy a ticket.

Haney and Wise took time for a quick Q&A with The River City News.

RCN: What attracted you to Grounded?

Wise: The subject matter is hugely important and current, and it also struck me immediately as a role of a lifetime. She is a warrior, a mother, and a wife. 

I feel very strongly about the content, examining the consequences of our country's latest methods of warfare. The American people are kept in the dark about so much of our military's actions in the Middle East and the extensive use of drones. Thousands of civilian deaths go unreported, filed away as collateral damage, but they are war crimes. 

We also don't know much about the servicemen and women stationed in trailers in Nevada, flying drones and killing by remote control, then driving home each night for dinner with their family.

Haney: It isn't often we hear a war story from a woman's perspective… Fighting a war on a screen half a world away and returning home every night to her husband and daughter. The play examines the physical and psychological toll this takes on a human being.

Wise: It's very new and scary territory with real psychological consequences. It's an important story to tell.


PREVIOUSLY:

Review: Grounded at ETC

Preview: Don't miss these shows in February


RCN: Tell us a little about the journey.

Wise: I auditioned for the New York premiere a couple of years ago. I wanted the part very badly, didn't get it, alas! Life goes on. 

I met Michael Haney last spring at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis where I was doing The Winslow Boy. When I found out he was directing Grounded in Cincinnati, my hometown, I begged him to let me put myself on tape. 

When he offered me the role, I was so thrilled and humbled and terrified. It's been an incredible journey already, getting a sense of this woman. I took some flying lessons to really get a taste of it: ‘the blue,’ as she calls it. 

Haney: We have tried to keep the production simple and theatrical. We are not trying to recreate all of the digital, computerized imagery and grainy video that we have all seen on the news.

We want, instead, to explore the emotional landscape punctuating it with some creative theatrical imagery that will support Kathleen and the storytelling.

RCN: What are the challenges and opportunities of a one person show?

Haney: The one-person show is theatre reduced to its essence: simple storytelling. One of the challenges of a one-person show is keeping the audience engaged for over an hour hearing just one voice.

We work every day on refining each moment down to its essence. The play is very tightly written. There are no wasted words. Finding the rhythm and truth of each moment is our main rehearsal concern.

If the audience is hearing truth and seeing beautiful theatrical images such as the ones Brian Mehring provides for this production-- then we are golden.

Wise: This is a first for me. I've never done anything like this. One of the greatest challenges is really owning the space and holding it, with absolutely no one to rely on but my own voice, my physical body, and my connection to the text. 

It requires an enormous amount of stamina, discipline, and self-confidence. There is no other actor from which to draw, to lean on, listen to, to propel you. It is only you. It also requires massive trust in the director.

Grounded, through Feb. 14. Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati, 1028 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine. 7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $28-$44 adults, $25 students. 513-421-3555 and www.ensemblecincinnati.org.

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts