Where the reckless maneuvers and wild blue of “Top Gun” meet the airless limits of a domestic drama, you get “Grounded” by George Brant.
The solo piece, performed by Elizabeth Braaten Palmieri this week, represents the first in-person performance for GreenHouse Theater Project since the pandemic. A company known for its ingenious, site-specific shows has quickly adapted, staging innovative shows on digital platforms throughout the past year.
Palmieri plays a fighter pilot whose life suddenly changes when she becomes a mother. The setup and scope of “Grounded” reframes more universal questions about the intersection of career and motherhood, and whether women can “have it all” – especially when slaughtering the bad guys is a big part of it. “all”.
After Palmieri’s character gives birth to a daughter, her assignments change, and Brant’s title leans hard on her double meaning. Torn from the sky, the protagonist becomes a drone pilot, flying from an anonymous trailer in the desert outside of Las Vegas.
The character’s past life has brought her home once a year on leave, Palmieri said. Now she performs 12-hour missions, then drives at night to accomplish her household chores. As her whole life takes a barrel roll, new realities cause her to lose her sense of what is real and “confidence turns to confusion,” Palmieri said.
“It’s bound to bother someone at some point,” she added.
While Palmieri will be alone on stage, the production emphasizes the importance it places on collaboration. True / False Film Fest co-founder and filmmaker David Wilson will direct the show; Palmieri depends on its “cinematic eye” and its ability to see the small details that make up the larger image of a project.
Palmieri has described Wilson as a note-weaving conductor played by artists and frequent GreenHouse collaborators, including video designer Chelsea Myers, sound designer Tim Pilcher and lighting designer Jordan Lundy.
“Grounded” will be staged outdoors in the emerging Arcade Quarter, setting the stripped-down and industrial vibe of the new pilot’s office.
The very selection of the piece is due to Palmieri’s creative relationship with Anna Sundberg, who serves as his acting coach on this project. Sundberg drew Palmieri’s attention to Brant’s work, and at various times each expressed a desire to lead the other in the show.
As a seasoned performer, Sundberg can walk with her into the free space of Palmieri’s character, ask important questions, and hear what needs to be redesigned or just tweaked. Even the smallest thing matters.
Palmieri said his default way of speaking was going up, some sentences sounding like questions.
“She hears that and she corrects me on it,” she said of Sundberg. “… It’s her job as a coach to say, ‘The rider is sure of everything. She’s straightforward and straightforward and everything is a statement that she is completely confident about.'”
Brant’s writing strikes a necessary blend between the pilot’s straightforward, “meticulous” speech – each word serving a purpose – and the poetry of life, Palmieri said. One sentence is particularly electric on and off the page; in describing the trajectory and purpose of the drones, the pilot notes that some can fly for more than a day on what appears to be a “never-ending mission”.
Palmieri saw herself – and many other women – in these words. Even when you love every part of your life, the constant attraction can be overwhelming.
“It’s motherhood,” Palmieri said. “… You can never land. You must always be ready, be ready. It’s a never-ending mission. You never stop being a mother once you are a mother.”
“Grounded” operates at 8:30 p.m. nightly through Saturday at 711 N. College Ave. Tickets range from $ 12 to $ 16. Visit https://www.greenhousetp.org/ for more information.
Aarik Danielsen is the Articles and Culture Editor for the Tribune. Contact him at [email protected] or by calling 573-815-1731.