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Unicorn Theatre's 'Grounded' offers insight into military trauma



The life and new reality of an ace fighter pilot come into focus as The Unicorn Theater presents the world premier of a new play by George Brant, Grounded, a one-woman tour de force opportunity for director Cynthia Levin and actress Carla Noack.

George Brant's new play, "Grounded" opened Jan. 25 at Kansas City's Unicorn Theatre.  "Grounded" features Carla Noack in a one woman drama about a fighter pilot during a current war.
Cynthia Levinq
Grounded features Carla Noack as a fighter pilot forced to change to a drone pilot with devastating consequences.
Cynthia Levin

An unplanned pregnancy results in the ace pilot’s reassignment from flying to manipulating military drones from a windowless trailer outside Las Vegas. The nature of her job allows her to hunt terrorists by day and then return to a more “civilian” life with her family each night.

Brant’s play depicts the emotional highs and lows of life-changing situations and adaptations forced upon military personnel. As technology changes, a fighter pilot's life changes drastically and she forces her to cope with such changes. In this case, a fighter pilot, who valued her time in her plane and the bright blue yonder, crash landed in a new reality with the onset of an unplanned pregnancy.

Levin took the play, Grounded, and conceived a theater-in-the-round setting with a turntable to make the intimate Jerome Stage theater even more cozy. By staging this way, Levin put the audience inside the action of the pilot facing her forced changes. Playwright Brant said that he had not envisioned the play in this way, but credited Levin with creating the concept for this production and making it work.

Grounded, that opened Sat., Jan. 25, came to the attention of Levin at a 2012 play reading at The Unicorn. The play is part of Rolling World Premier of the National New Play Network.

Carla Noack stars as the pilot who confronts the differences between the American desert where she lives with her family and the one she patrols half a world away. As she makes the change, she also finds a dessert and isolation inside her mind.

The colors of the fighter pilot’s blue sky vanish and transform into a gray screen. The solace and exhilaration she experiences in a cock pit slowly diminish to reveal the isolation of her mind as she fights to adjust to a newer lifestyle.

As the pilot, Noack takes the playwright’s words and with her carefully crafted performance puts the audience in the seat next to her. She flies her drone, with the same dedication she flew her fighter plane. Now, though, she flies from a seat in a trailer, drives her car home nightly, and spends her free time with her family. As her dedication and obsession with her drone and her assignment grow in importance, she finds her dedication to family becoming more strained and confusing. As she engages more and more into her mission at work, she finds herself slowing withdrawing from as her family. She knows what’s right, but her mind will not allow her to disengage.

With super subtle changes in character Noack slowly leads the audience down the decline from reality into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Her masterful understanding and character development gently leads the audience with her as she descends and succumbs to the illness.

Brant confronts the reality of PTSD, but from a different standpoint. While most servicemen plagued with the disease come from combat experiences and trauma, Noack’s character suffers the same dilemmas as her military mind and focus are forced to change.

Further, Noack’s character is a woman, and PTSD is not generally associated with women. It’s considered more of a man’s plight and illness, leaving many scared for life. Many sufferers are unable to hold a job, repair their minds from the damage of war, and in many cases PTSD leads to catastrophic bouts with alcohol, drugs and in many cases, suicide.

Much of the background for Grounded, Brant said, came from the military produced, Stars and Stripes. Brant said that he read many articles for his research and that the stories and accounts he found were brutally honest.

He said the play might still undergo some changes because he had recently interviewed a fighter pilot who gave him very graphic details and information that may work its way into revisions.

Brant said of the lead character in Grounded, “She’s one I just can’t let go of. She is a very difficult character to walk away from.”

Grounded is staged in the round on Unicorn Theatre’s Jerome Stage located at 3828 Main Street, Kansas City, MO, 64111.

Performances run Tues., Wed. and Thurs. at 7:30 p.m.; Fri. and Sat. at 8p.m.; and Sun. at 3p.m. Talk back performances, where patrons are encouraged to stay after the show and discuss the play with the actors and director, are scheduled for Jan. 28, Feb. 2 and 4.

Director, Cynthia Levin continues in her 35th season with Unicorn Theatre where she has served as a director, actor, designer or producer for more than 260 productions.

Carla Noack returns to the Unicorn after her stint as Sarah Goodwin in Time Stands Still. Most recently she enjoyed playing Rosalind in the Heart of America Shakespeare Festival’s As You Like It.

Playwright, George Brant’s plays include Elephant’s Graveyard, Grounded, The Mourners’ Bench, Any Other Name, Salvage, Grizzly Mama, Three Voyages of the Lobotomobile, and Dark Room.

The creative team for Grounded is: Gary Mosby (scenic design), Alex Perry (lighting design), Shannon Smith-Regnier (costume design), Emily Swenson (prop design) and Greg Mackender (Composer/ Sound Design) Michael Heuer (sound design/engineer). Tanya Brown is the Stage Manager, Amanda Boyle is the dramaturg and Chioma Anyanwu and Alex Murphy are the Production Assistants.

Sponsorship for Grounded is provided by The National New Play Network.

The Unicorn Theatre is at 3828 Main Street Kansas City, MO 64111, and continues its tradition to offer BOLDNEWPLAYS to Kansas City audiences.

Tickets are now on sale. Call 816-531-PLAY (7529) EXT. 10, or online at the website:, or in person at the box office. Special discounts are available for seniors (65+), students and patrons under age 30.

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