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Ludwig Van
Toronto Montreal

SCRUTINY | Carly Street Is Mesmerizing In TheatreSix’s ‘Grounded’

By Paula Citron on February 17, 2020

Carly Street in theatreSix 'Grounded' (Photo : Ross Spencer Photography)
Carly Street in TheatreSix ‘Grounded’ (Photo : Ross Spencer Photography)

TheatreSix/Grounded, written by George Brant, directed by Kerry Ann Doherty, Scotiabank Community Studio, Streetcar Crowsnest, Feb. 14 to Feb. 29. Tickets available at theatresix.com or crowstheatre.com.

Peerless actor Carly Street has added another jewel of a performance to her already glittering diadem. In American playwright George Brant’s one-woman show Grounded (2012), Street is absolutely mesmerizing. The combination of her riveting performance, coupled with the play’s provocative subject matter, makes for a heady experience. Street plus Grounded equals total theatre.

Although the prolific Brant was having success getting his plays produced in regional theatres across the US, a production in the Big Apple had eluded him until Grounded. It was Grounded that brought him to an extended run in London in 2013, and finally to New York in 2014, where Grounded has subsequently had two different productions. The play has now been mounted in Israel, Australia, Germany and Sweden. In other words, Grounded has been Brant’s calling card to the vaunted international playwrights circle.

The play is intense. The Pilot, as the character is called, is an ace flyer of F-16 fighter jets. First, she is grounded by a surprise pregnancy. Apparently, pregnant women can’t fly F-16s because the ejection seat causes a miscarriage. Who knew? Until her baby daughter Samantha/Sam is born, the Pilot is relegated to a desk job. When she is ready to go back on active duty, it is not fighters she gets assigned to, but Reaper drones, or the Chair Force, as she calls it. Instead of the beloved blue of the sky, her new job plants her in front of a gray screen. She sits in a freezing cold, air-conditioned trailer at Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas, and shoots at the enemy 8,000 miles away in Iraq. She has traded in one desert for another.

Carly Street in TheatreSix 'Grounded' (Photo : Ross Spencer Photography)
Carly Street in TheatreSix ‘Grounded’ (Photo : Ross Spencer Photography)

The Pilot kills people during her 12-hour shift, and then goes home to the everyday existence of her husband and daughter. Since the drone action is classified, she can’t talk about it. Things start to go south for the Pilot when instead of killing random young men planting IIDs, her assignment becomes following the No. 2 man among the enemy. The harrowing burden of the play is the interaction between the drone, the Pilot, and No. 2, and all I’ll say, is that it is not pretty. As the Pilot herself says with irony, if Odysseus had gone home every day, The Odyssey would have been a different story.

From the very moment the lights go up on Street, her physicality tells it all. Just her stance telegraphs to us that she is one tough cookie. Street adopts a sardonic tone, almost laughing at herself as she describes hanging out with the guys, and then detailing her love affair with Eric who will become her husband. She moves between poetic rapture about the joys of flying in the blue, in her beloved fighter that she calls Tiger, and then switches into down to earth salty truisms to describe her life on the ground.

Street has a very expressive face and body, and she uses these gifts to give life to the text. Her Pilot is so very alive and in the moment. Street’s pacing is brilliant, and she instinctively knows when to pause, and when to speed up, as she masterfully tells her story. Brant’s writing is a marvel, because he makes dry facts sound exciting. In fact, I learned a lot about warfare, but it is Street’s careful delivery that brings power to the script. Kudos to director Kerry Ann Doherty, who obviously worked closely with Street in bringing the Pilot so realistically and charismatically to the stage.

Carly Street in TheatreSix 'Grounded' (Photo : Ross Spencer Photography)
Carly Street in TheatreSix ‘Grounded’ (Photo : Ross Spencer Photography)

Melanie McNeill’s set for the small space is a U-shaped mound of sand that represents both the Nevada and Iraqi deserts. On one end there is a chair where the Pilot sits in front of her computer screen, and at the other end, a small platform where she stands to talk about other aspects of her life. In other productions of Grounded, the Pilot wore a real life flight suit with all the trimmings, but in this production, McNeill has clothed Street in a generic blue coverall. We still get the message, however. Michael Brunet’s lighting follows Street in her back and forth prowl with pin spot precision, while Thom Marriott’s sound design focuses on key effects. They are all clearly dealing with a small budget, but they make it work.

TheatreSix is a new company in town, under the artistic directorship of Doherty. They are certainly off to a flying start with this stunning production.

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Paula Citron

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.
Paula Citron
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Follow me

Paula Citron

Paula Citron is a Toronto-based freelance arts journalist and broadcaster who hosts her own website, paulacitron.ca. For over 25 years, she was senior dance writer for The Globe and Mail, associate editor of Opera Canada magazine, arts reviewer for Classical 96.3 FM, and dance previews contributor to Toronto Life magazine. She has been a guest lecturer for various cultural groups and universities, particularly on the role of the critic/reviewer, and has been a panellist on COC podcasts. Before assuming a full-time journalism career, Ms. Citron was a member of the drama department of the Claude Watson School for the Arts.
Paula Citron
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