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Peyton McCarthy steps up game for one-woman show, ‘Grounded’


Peyton McCarthy stars in The Belle Theatre’s production of George Brant’s Grounded, on stage now through April 7th. This one-woman show targets our assumptions about war, family, and the power of storytelling.

Grounded is the story of an ace fighter pilot who becomes pregnant and gets reassigned to the “chair force,” where she operates drones 12 hours a day, seven days a week from a windowless trailer on an Air Force base in the desert outside Las Vegas. Hunting terrorists by day and coming home to her family by night, the boundaries between reality and the screen – between the desert where she lives and the desert where she fights – blur as the pilot struggles to navigate her dual identities.

Although McCarthy has been performing since the age of eight, this is her most ambitious role to date. Not just because of the heavy line load implicit in a one-actor play, but due to the wide range of emotions the role requires her to conjure with only imaginary figures to help her elicit the reactions she experiences over the course of the storyline. In essence, her challenge with the role is to illustrate the progressive mental and emotional decline experienced by many combat veterans who suffer with PTSD.

At first blush, one might expect PTSD to only be a disability that affects battlefield combatants. In theory, drone operators are insulated from the threats and risks attendant to combat situations. But in truth, anyone who witnesses a physical or sexual assault, abuse, accident, disaster or other serious event can develop PTSD. So the play’s premise is sound.

One factor that predisposes McCarthy’s character to PTSD is her training and experience as a fighter pilot where, in the sky, “you are alone in the vastness and you are the blue.” So being relegated to the gray of her computer screen in a windowless trainer in the middle of the desert is traumatic enough. Witnessing the death of the terrorists she targets in graphic detail, as well as the loss of her colleagues in the field as her drone hovers high overhead as their thermal imprint wanes while they are vainly waiting for help to arrive, is more than she can bear. It doesn’t take long for her to start wearing her jump suit home, further blurring the lines between her military service and home life. In this vein, McCarthy poignantly portrays the toll that her new reality exacts on her mind, her body and her relationships with her husband and daughter.

Thin and diminutive, McCarthy may seem mis-cast as a cocky, adrenaline-infused F16 fighter pilot. She’s not. She perfectly suited to the seemingly androgynous pilot George Brant created. Brant’s pilot is more warrior than a woman, wife or mother. Toward that end, McCarthy delivers her lines in clipped, sometimes staccato cadence. She evinces her character’s willful, ambitious and unapologetic persona. Everything – from the way she stands, moves and straddles a chair to her insistence on being on top when she and her husband have sex – exudes swagger and swashbuckle. And not surprisingly, it is husband, Eric, who assumes the role of Mr. Mom, with her playing the part of absentee mom to complete the role reversal.

McCarthy’s performance will not just surprise the audience. It will induce patrons to inch to the edge of their seats as a pervasive sense of foreboding envelopes them, forcing the oxygen from their lungs and expelling it from the room.

Those who’ve followed Peyton’s nascent career will be largely unprepared for the depth and nuance she brings to this performance. That’s understandable. After all, her last two roles were comedic, even slapstick. She played Billie Dwyer in Unnecessary Farce and Ruby Sue Bennett in Four Old Broads at Belle Theatre. But the actor prefers dramatic roles. She showed glimpses of the requisite gravitas as Daisy Buchanan in The Great Gatsby and Annelle in Steel Magnolias (both at Fort Myers Theatre debut). Other roles include Dr. Harriman in Mind Games, Mother in Yellow Boat, and Siobhan in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Theater-goers who relish command performances by versatile emerging actors who play strong female characters will thrill at McCarthy’s performance coupled with George Brant’s riveting monologues and powerful storytelling. Those who hunt for dramatic productions replete with moral implications and psycho-social ramifications will find ample grist for late night apres’-theatre discussions and next-day post-mortems as they experience the psychological trauma of war-by-proxy and the disintegration of the boundaries between career and home life.

Caveat:  Adult language and sexual content.

Go here for play dates, times and ticket information.

March 29, 2024.


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