Street Corner Arts’ ‘Grounded’ is a harrowing journey into the dark corners of the human mind

Over the past few seasons, Street Corner Arts has made a name for themselves with topical and emotionally riveting productions,  winning acclaim and awards in the process. Their latest may be their most on-the-pulse production yet, an examination of the people at the heart of the military industrial complex, and the effects violence and war can have on the human psyche. Featuring a star-making turn from Sarah Danko, George Brant’s Grounded is a powerful journey into an emotional maelstrom, that, while not quite sticking its landing, takes its audience on a devastating trip.

When we first meet Grounded’s main character, she is a hot shot fighter pilot in Iraq, but after a weekend rendezvous with a sweet young man, her life is changed. She soon finds herself a new kind of a pilot, a member of the “chair force”, leaving the gorgeous blue skies behind for the domestic life of a mother, and the endless gray screen of a drone camera. What follows is an emotionally complex downward slide, as we see how constant contact to war and violence can leave permanent wounds on the soul.

Sarah Danko grabs our attention the moment she walks out on stage as The Pilot, all pride and swagger, and  she never lets us go. As the play is told almost entirely through narration, it could become endlessly dull in the wrong hands, and so we’re lucky that Danko tackles the role with confidence and dynamism. In the play’s early stages, one feels like they’ve started up a particularly interesting conversation at a party, and it’s this believability that makes the play’s eventually climax carry so much weight. Grounded takes its main character, and it’s audience, through a cavalcade of emotions, but with Danko’s thoughtful performance, these conflicting emotions never feel overblown or stilted, but instead are handled with subtlety, making the final downfall that inevitably grips out heroine feel honest, and the audience’s emotions earned.

Though Danko does much of the heavy lifting, there’s no denying the impact that the production team has on Grounded‘s effectiveness. Much of the play hinges on the sea of grey into which our protagonist stares for hours on end, and thanks to media designer Lowell Bartholomee and lighting designer Chris Conard, the audience is taken along on this ride, gazing into that gray ourselves. Conard’s clever use of color, along with the bizarre soundscapes created by Paul Feinstein, also helps the audience to get into the pilot’s head space, with subtle changes helping denote location, time of day, and, most importantly, emotional state.

Though the character’s arc is well handled through most the play, the ending, unfortunately, rings hollow. Though it doesn’t tarnish what came before, one can’t help but feel the soft touch that ran through so much of the play was replaced with a pummeling fist, as nuance gets thrown out the window and the play’s themes are spoken to us aloud. It could be seen as the a dour final destination for our heroine, but one can’t help but think it could have been handled in a more insightful way.

After the play, the director Benjamin Summers came on to the stage to invite us to the after party, stating that we didn’t have to go away sad. As I thought on this, I realized it wasn’t sadness that gripped me, but something more akin to a slowly creeping dread. It stayed in the back of my head for quite some time, all through my train ride home, in my evening whiskey, leaving me to wonder as I closed my eyes to sleep: will I be dreaming in gray tonight?

“Grounded” runs 80 minutes, and is playing through April 21st at Hyde Park Theatre. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit streetcornerarts.org.

Arts in Austin: April 2018

As spring falls upon Austin, the city finds itself packed to the gills with arts events for all tastes. Whether you’re looking to take in a night of theatre, explore foreign cinematic wonders, or dip your toe into the art world, there’s an event for you this month. Here’s a rundown of some of the biggest arts event for the month of April:

Art City Austin

Palmer Event Center

Saturday, April 14, 2018 – Sunday, April 15 from 10 AM – 6 PM

On the weekend of April 14th, Arts Alliance Austin will be transforming the Palmer Pavilion into an artistic wonderland with the 68th Art City Austin event, bringing in over 120 of the most intriguing artists from Austin and around the globe to present art of all styles, from painting to metalwork, and everything in between. Art City has held a special place in the hearts of Austin arts fans for decades, and with tickets only $10, it’s hard to pass this one up.

For more information, visit the Arts Alliance Austin page at artallianceaustin.org.

UT New Theatre Festival

April 12-22, 2018

Oscar G. Brockett Theatre

For years, UTNT has provided Austin audiences an excellent opportunity to take in works of some of the most talented up-and-coming playwrights, and for their 2018 they’ve pulled another talented bunch. Featuring new works from Travis Tate, Drew Paryzer, and Paz Pardo, there’s something for every taste, featuring everything from fledgling witches, feisty poets, to prodigal sons. Some amazing playwrights have gotten their start here, so don’t miss the chance to see these writers, any of whom could become the next big thing in contemporary theatre

For more information, visit theatredance.utexas.edu

Performance Park

March 23-May 12

Vortex Repertory Theatre

Vortex has never been interested in easy categorization, and their latest project, Performance Park looks to blur the lines between art forms ever further. The event includes a boardwalk, a fortune telling spot, performance art, and so much more, creating a multi-headed beast has something new with every turn, where no two nights are the same. Early reviews have been raves, and with several more weeks to attend, you still have plenty of chances to take in what’s being called a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

For more information, visit VortexRep.Org.

Exit Wounds

April 6-8

Long Center for the Performance Arts

Ballet Austin’s Stephen Mills is a unique talent, producing personal, passionate works that enrich the mind as much as they ensnare and enrapture the senses. With his latest work, Exit Wounds, he presents a piece in three chapters, each exploring situation in which Mills witnessed acts of true courage, that each changed the way he looked at the world. It’s bound to be an awe-inspiring piece of performance art, and one that dance fans do not want to miss.

For more information, visit BalletAustin.org. 

 

New French Cinema Week

April 25 – April 28

Austin Film Society

Those seeking an escape from the bombast of the blockbusters making their way across Austin cinemas can’t find refuge in Austin Film Society, who will be presenting works from contemporary French filmmakers through their “New French Cinema Week”. With eleven films and events spread over five days, there’s plenty of French wonder to take in, including Oscar-nominee The Red Turtle, festival favorites Custody and Montparnasse Bienvenue, and even a filmmaking class from Camera D’or winnner Julie Roue.

For more information, visit AustinFilm.org

Austin Dance Festival

April 6-8

AustinVentures Studio Theatre

Pulling in artists from around the world, the Austin Dance Festival is three days of pure entertainment, which includes not only performances from over 20 different dance groups, but also classes, film screenings, interviews, and even a silent auction.  You can even enjoy a glimpse of the future of dance with a youth performance on Sunday the 8th, where dancers ages 13-18 will perform their own professional pieces. The dancers involved have been the recipients of several Austin Critics Table Awards, so it’s sure to be a weekend of polished, professional performances from some of the top dancers in town.

For more information, visit kdhdance.com.

Image courtesy of Art Alliance Austin.

New Seasons: Zach Scott Theatre

Zach Scott Theatre, one of Austin’s oldest companies, has just announced their latest season, and it has the potential to be one of their most interesting in years. Mixing upbeat musical fair with deep, thoughtful contemporary dramas, Zach seems to reaching out to a wide stretch of audiences. Here’s a rundown of just what Zach’s bringing to the table for their 18-19 Season:

 

Once

September 19 – October 28, 2018

Directed by Dave Steakley

Musical Direction by Allen Robertson

Scenic Design by Donald Eastman

Winner of eight Tonys, including Best Musical, Once will be making its regional premiere when it hits Zach stages this September, and Zach’s going all out to transport you to the rustic streets of Dublin. The lobby will be transformed into an Irish pub, which will surely get you in the right mood for the intricate music and heartbreaking story of this piece, based upon the Oscar-award winning film. This story of two ill-fated lovers has become one of the most celebrating romances of the twenty-first century, and I for one can’t wait to be swept away to the streets of Dublin by by Glen Hasard and Markéta Irglová’s stunning songs (played live on stage by the actors themselves!) It has all the potential to be one of the most memorable musicals of the season.

 

NOTES FROM THE FIELD

February 27 – March 31, 2019

 

Directed by Dave Steakley

With Smith’s “Notes From the Field”, Zach is producing one of its provocative pieces in ages, an in depth look at a segment of society caught in a system that’s dooming them to failure. Culled from interviewing from over 250 sources, this one-woman show presents the story of 18 different individuals, who each tell the story of incarcerated youth, and the broken systems that put them where they are today. Through “Notes From the Field”, Smith brings into into the lives of young men and women, from their own mouths, as well as those of their parents, teachers, and administrators. It’s a powerful play, soon airing on HBO, that will surely have people long after the curtain falls.

 

MATILDA THE MUSICAL
April 3 – May 12, 2019

 

Directed by Abe Reybold and Nat Miller

Musical Direction by Allen Robertson

On the lighter side of things, directors Abe Reybold and Nat Miller are bringing one of Broadway’s most joyful shows to the Austin stage with Matilda. Based on the Roald Dahl book, this story of the trials and tribulations of a precocious psychic is a perfect piece for people of all ages. Running for 1,555 performances on Broadway, as well as making a splash at the West End and on tour, this wildly popular musical featuring music by awardd-winner Tim Minchin may be one of the biggest shows Zach’s produced, so one doesn’t want to miss the grandeur or spectacle on display come next year.

 

THE BALLAD OF KLOOK AND VINETTE

April 24 – May 26, 2019

This soulful, world-premiere chamber musical by Che Walker, Anoushka Lucas and Omar Lyefook, looks to be a complete 180 from the lavish, upbeat nature of Matilda. A tender story of two drifters hoping to find understanding in each other, The Ballad of Klook and Vinette has the potential the be one of the most poignant moments of Zach’s season, especially as it’s using the intimacy of Zach’s Kleberg stage to help sell its emotional tale. It’s an interesting choice for Zach, showing they’re willilng to take chances, and with the right cast, this could be the highlight of the season.

 

FIRE AND AIR
June 12 – July 14, 2019

Coming off its world premiere on the New York stage, the latest from the legendary Terrence McNally follows the infamous Ballets Russes, and its creator, Sergei Diaghilev, as well Diaghilev’s tempestuous relationship with dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Receving raves from its early performances, this could create some powerful, exciting moments on the Topfer stage, and with dance such a built-in part of the play, we can only expect some fine footwork and gorgeous costumes on display, two things at which Zach has always excelled.

 

HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH

July 31 – September 8, 2019

Directed by Dave Steakley

The Broadway favorite makes its way back to Austin stages to close out Zach’s 18-19 Season with hard-rocking energy. This simple tale of a German rock siren trying to make her way in America has become one of the most popular musicals of the century, making a star out of its creator John Cameron Mitchell, and its just the type of weird, punk performance that Austinites will go crazy for. Its a bold stroke in a season full of wide swings, and one that’s sure to bring in the crowds.

 

With their latest season, Zach looks to be taking quite a few chances, and I certainly can’t wait to see if those chances pay off in the coming year. Be sure to visit Zach’s website at zachtheatre.org  for more information, and maybe even pick up some season tickets starting in May, so you won’t miss any of the wildness.