Arts & Culture

Worlds collide in Riverside Theatre production of 'Grounded'

Third installment in Virtual Story Series available online through Oct. 25

Katy Hahn stars as a fighter pilot whose life changes dramatically when her role takes her from the sky to the screen in
Katy Hahn stars as a fighter pilot whose life changes dramatically when her role takes her from the sky to the screen in “Grounded.” This third offering in Riverside Theatre’s Virtual Story Series can be experienced online through Sunday. (Rob Merritt/Riverside Theatre)

I can’t remember the last time I was as affected by a script and performance. “Grounded,” the third installment in Riverside Theatre’s Virtual Story Series, is riveting.

Katy Hahn, a frequent star for the Iowa City troupe, is intensity personified and perfected as The Pilot, a female fighter pilot whose wings are clipped when an unplanned pregnancy puts her career on hold. She enjoys the new direction family life brings, but after three years, with the encouragement of her husband, she’s ready to get back to her blue — the sky where she feels no limits.

“I was born for this,” she says of motherhood, “but I was born for that, too,” she says of the sky.

In the short time that she’s been away, however, the war has changed. The desert has changed from one Middle Eastern battleground to another. She has changed.

And she’s not ready to embrace a change that takes her out of the air and into a high-security trailer in the hot Nevada desert, where she will be part of a team flying drone-like pilotless planes that scout the sands 8,000 miles away and can kill in 1.2 seconds with the push of her button. These eyes in the sky are looking for “the guilty,” to eradicate them before they, and their roadside bombs, can kill Americans.

The Pilot is fueled by being in control, and must retrain for this alternate reality where the main advantage is that dying in the line of duty no longer lingers on the horizon.

This production of playwright George Brant’s brilliant 2012 award-winning script was filmed in Theatre Cedar Rapids’ Grandon Studio, which merges the worlds of theater and video, putting viewers in the pilot’s seat for 90 minutes of emotional aerial acrobatics.

Caroline Price is in the director’s chair; Rob Merritt is behind the camera; Karle Meyers creates the costume that is key to the dialogue and action; and S. Benjamin Farrar and Chris Rich team up to create the versatile setting where the curved scenery behind Hahn doubles as a projection screen, and in the right light, the spatter painting on the floor looks like stars in the firmament.

Hahn, however, drives it all home, in one cohesive thread keeping viewers on the edge of their seats as she wrestles with the various force fields struggling to control The Pilot’s life.

Her flight suit — which she earned through “sweat and brains and guts” — defines her in the air, but when she’s grounded, her pent-up adrenaline, frustration and flight suit follow her home. She craves sanctuary in the arms of her husband and daughter, but the gray images she watches for 12 hours a day, every day of the week, steer an unsettling fear into the other 12 hours of her day.

Her pain throbs through highs and lows that crash-land in flashes of clarity and confusion that muddy her reality, zeroing in on a shattering conclusion.

The video will be online through 11:59 p.m. Sunday. The low cost of $15 for adults and $10 for students is money well-spent.

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

If you go

• What: Riverside Theatre’s Virtual Story Series presents “Grounded,” starring Katy Hahn

• When: Online through 11:59 p.m. Sunday (10/25)

• Where: Link emailed after ticket purchase

• Cost: $15 adults, $10 students, at Riversidetheatre.org/grounded

• Caution: Contains adult themes and language

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