By Mary Damiano
There are two things you need to know about Grounded, the current show from Thinking Cap Theatre at The Vanguard in Fort Lauderdale. There are only two performances left, and you should do whatever you can to see this magnificent production.
Niki Fridh delivers a bravura performance as a badass, rock star fighter pilot who lives for the moments she’s in the air, in “the blue,” she calls it. She rhapsodizes about flying, fighting the war in the desert, dropping bombs here and there, unconcerned about the aftermath because she’s always long gone before her target is reduced to dust. Her world changes when she gets pregnant and is grounded, eventually assigned stateside to the Nevada desert to become a drone pilot. Instead of her beloved, glorious blue, she’s entrenched in a grey screen of the desert she used to fly above. While she recognizes the gift of being able to fight the war with the threat of her own death removed, and go home each night to her husband and daughter, being a drone pilot turns out to be much more dangerous than she ever imagined.
Nicole Stodard is a visionary, both in her choice of material for Thinking Cap, which she founded, and with her direction and design of her productions. In Grounded, the use of projections, designed by Cat Del Buono, allow the audience into the pilot’s world and into her head, creating a marriage of style and substance that complements Fridh’s compelling performance without overshadowing it.
The other designers are up to the challenges of the script. Stodard’s sound design, Eric Nelson’s lighting and Alyiece Moretto’s scenic and costume design mesh seamlessly to create the world in George Brant’s play.
Grounded rests squarely on Fridh’s slender shoulders, and she is strong enough to not only pull it off, but turn it into an edge-of-your-seat nail biter. On stage alone for 80 brisk minutes, she never falters. With macho swagger, Fridh deftly conveys the pilot’s exhilaration of flying and living the fighter pilot lifestyle, and later the struggle of balancing her profession with her role as a wife and mother. And when the pilot begins to realize the consequences of her actions, Fridh ratchets up the intensity of her performance, becoming even more riveting and intense as the psychological effects of her job take their toll.
Both Grounded and Fridh’s performance are not to be missed.
Grounded runs through Saturday, April 15 at the The Vanguard in Fort Lauderdale. Visit ThinkingCapTheatre.com for tickets and more information.
Photo Credit: Nicole Stodard