A single chair and one spotlighted actor will tell a story of feminism, war and family beginning this weekend in the Kenai Performers’ production of “Grounded.”
Written by George Brant, the 75-minute, one-woman show follows a fighter pilot, known only as “The Pilot,” who is reassigned to operate drones after she becomes pregnant.
The production is the effort of three women — director Rebecca Gilman, lead actress AnnMarie Rudstrom and stage manager Hannah Tauriainen. Gilman first read the play in college and was intrigued by an off-Broadway performance of the show, starring Anne Hathaway as the “The Pilot.”
“I was just like, oh, that’s interesting,” Gilman said. “It’s a one-woman show about a pilot, that sounds cool. … I read [it] and I just kind of fell in love with it.”
Rudstrom, who plays “The Pilot” in the Kenai Performers’ adaptation, said taking on the lead role was daunting.
“I have 90 minutes to memorize [and] 60 pages straight, which has been the scariest, most overwhelming, mentally challenging thing I’ve ever done,” Rudstrom said. “I just described it as, like, this elephant that I need to eat but I don’t know where to start.”
“One bite at a time,” Gilman joked.
Gilman knew she wanted Rudstrom to play “The Pilot.” The two first worked together when Gilman directed the Kenai Performers’ adaptation of “The Crucible” and have been “joined at the hip” ever since, she said. Gilman and Rudstrom will also work together for the group’s upcoming performance of “Little Women.”
Rudstrom said that while she loved the script the first time she read it, the subject matter is outside her comfort zone.
“It took a while for me to be comfortable with the content of the script,” Rudstrom said. “It is edgy and modern and it’s not really how I behave in my regular life. I was a little nervous about it, but the story is so compelling and I felt like her story needed to be told. … She’s such a strong woman and I couldn’t get it out of my head.“
Gilman said that while the play addresses contemporary warfare strategies, she doesn’t view the play as anti-military and thinks people will be able to relate to The Pilot’s social isolation after a year of quarantining due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think people are gonna have a lot of different opinions after seeing this,” Gilman said. “I think it’s going to affect different people in different ways, which good art should do.”
One of the perks of having such a small ensemble, Gilman said, is that COVID-19 mitigation is easier. Gilman, Rudstrom and Tauriainen have all received the COVID-19 vaccine, though Gilman said they still plan to take a rapid COVID test prior to showtime. A small cohort also means the group can host more in-person audience members — up to 50 people per show. In-person audience members will be required to wear masks and will have their temperature taken at the door.
“Grounded” opens this Friday and will have additional performances on March 20, 26 and 27, all at 7 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at kenaiperformers.org/buy-tickets and will not be sold at the door. People who do not wish to attend the show in person can also attend via a video-on-demand option, which Gilman said works similar to other streaming rentals. People will be able to rent a recorded performance and will have 48 hours to view it once they hit “play.” People can rent the video while the show is running, or between March 19 and March 28.