Casey Turner in the Dramatic Repertory Company production of “Grounded.” © 2022 Kat Moraros Photography

Hearing “You’re grounded” may strike terror in the hearts of youngsters. But others can also feel the sting of those words.

The latest production from the Dramatic Repertory Company (DRC) deals with the damage done when an American fighter pilot of the Iraq-Afghanistan war era is forced to work from a new type of cockpit, one that never leaves the sands of Nevada.

George Brant’s 2014 solo play “Grounded” is offered in a riveting production defined by the sort of strong, limit-testing performance it demands.

Under the direction of Keith Powell Beyland, local theater favorite Casey Turner plays “The Pilot,” a 30-something woman who initially didn’t seem to allow the consequences of her work to diminish the sheer joy she felt in soaring through the blue skies in a missile-laden fighter jet she called Tiger. She relished the thrill of being a rough, tough, take-charge woman alongside her “boys” on the flight line.

A night of passion while on leave leads to an unplanned pregnancy. Soon, her flight suit no longer fits and her new status as a married mom makes it impossible, according to regulations, for her to continue in the job she loved.

Assigned to a remote location in the desert near Las Vegas, she’s ordered to control deadly, unmanned drones in the skies half a world away while returning to her off-base home at the end of her shift. With the immediate threat of death gone for her, the dangers of serving now acquire more subtle shades of gray.


The Pilot’s monologue extends to describe the momentary joy, stress and boredom associated with both ends of her new life. One moment she’s staring at a computer screen tracking drab but potentially threatening figures that she can blow apart at the push of a button. (“Boom,” she exclaims when a target is destroyed.)  The next, she’s trying to secure quality time at the mall with her daughter. She’s sympathetic, but increasingly edgy, in her attempts to manage the conflicts within her new competing identities.

Well known to local theatergoers, Turner’s signature smile becomes a little less comfortable on the face of a character on track for a breakdown. Her Pilot fills the 85-minute-with-no-intermission drama with the restless energy of someone trying hard, perhaps hopelessly, to make it all work. She paces the minimal set at the three-quarters-in-the-round Portland Stage Studio Theater with an increasing sense of urgency that her character cannot shake off, until there’s little left but anger and guilt.

Brant’s harrowing play, while referencing Greek gods and Gorgons, does work in a few nuggets of humor along with thoughts about surveillance culture, remote warfare, military justice, morality, marriage, parenthood, feminism, and other things, all mixed together with a final touch of prophecy.

But it is the emotionally intense performance of Casey Turner that is most deserving of the spotlight in this gripping production.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.

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