Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside of American Blues Theater (ABT), Chicago’s second oldest Equity ensemble,…
We have Lift off at the American Blues Theater with a “Grounded” Production
Reviewed by Justin Allan Kimball
Walking into the Green House Theater with the delicious Milky Way bar I just purchased at the theater’s newly renovated bar, I notice a few things: An incredibly minimalistic set for a one-person show, which worried me. THEN I noticed a list of “Terms” I will need to know for this military based production, which worried me even more. Let’s just say I had worries. However, when I finally got to sit down and enjoy the American Blues Theater production of “Grounded” my worries were immediately dashed. In short, “Grounded” is the story of a young woman’s journey from being a decorated Air Force pilot, to a part time drone pilot and mother/wife. This one-woman show depicts both the terror of battle and the mind numbing monotony that can be “normal” life.
Director (Lisa Portes), Scenic Designer (Sarah E. Ross), Lighting Designer (Sarah Hughey), and Sound Designer (Lindsay Jones) really work as a unit to make this show something to remember. The set is entirely made of mesh white material that allows Sarah Hughey to easily project images onto the entire stage. This makes for some absolutely beautiful stage pictures. Watching the set change and “act” with the actress on stage is fascinating to watch. Sometimes I found myself watching the background more than the action on stage, which is my only criticism of the technical side of this production. It may have been TOO good. Along with a beautiful picture, Lindsay Jones adds incredibly well timed and developed sound cues. They help the show keep its pace while drawing the audience more completely into this world. Finally, the director choreographs (yes, I do mean choreographs) this play perfectly. The use of movement on stage keeps me guessing and gives the story a very strong timeline and structure.
Now, Actress (Gwendolyn Whiteside) is someone people should/will pay hard earned money to see. The story-telling feels incredibly smooth and she takes even relatively mundane acts, like riding in a car, and she makes them feel needed. I NEEDED to know what happened next. I NEEDED to know this woman. We see this character in the seemingly insignificant and absolutely most important moments of her life and… we need every one. Her last climactic break down moment got me. Mostly in the eyes and the throat (that awkward feeling right before you cry but hold it back because people are around). However, through all of this, some things felt a bit lacking. Whiteside’s’ “mature” dialogue sometimes felt a little forced. The cursing just felt out of her element, like perhaps she doesn’t curse in real life. This led to some of the more crude humor to wither a bit. This being said, there is something about how she tells a story that will keep audiences coming back.
People (including myself) are often skeptical of one-person shows due to the difficultly level of such performances. It’s just very hard to be as interesting as a full production by yourself, but as far as Chicago theaters go you aren’t going to find a stronger production. The American Blues production of “Grounded” is a fun, thought provoking and heart-wrenching story that you truly need to see. OH, and get yourself a Milky Way bar or something, they are delicious.
“Grounded” runs July 6-July 13 at the Green House Theater Center (2257 N. Lincoln ave) The performance schedule is Thursday-Saturday’s at 7:30pm. The production runs approximately 80 minutes and the tickets are $19-$49. The tickets are available at the box office (773.404.7336) or at AmericanBluesTheater.com.