—Originally published October 17, 2016—
Meet the Hanslick Girls: Gwen, Eleanor and Dania. Created by writer Zach Barr, they are a trio of Northwestern students who always go to see plays together. They may not have the same opinions, but their conversations tend to make for an entertaining read. Recently, the Girls saw “Grounded,” a one-woman show starring Tess Musky-Goldwyn, produced by Jewish Theatre Ensemble. Let’s hear what they had to say on their way back from the theater…
“All I’m saying is that she should have gotten credit on the poster,” Gwen continued, as they exited the bustling crowd spilling out of Shanley Pavilion and onto the street.
“I guess that makes sense,” Eleanor said. “When there’s only one actress.”
“She was definitely really, really good,” Dania added. “It was a weird show, but I definitely enjoyed it.”
“What was weird about it?” Gwen asked.
“Oh, you know,” Dania said. “One actress, no set, just one long string of words. It’s different than the other shows that get done here.”
“Solo monologue shows aren’t uncommon,” Gwen said. “But no, I guess people don’t produce them on campus often. But this is a very high-quality one. George Brant is a really fine writer. The way the script builds and builds, and you keep expecting what’s going to happen.”
“I had no idea the whole way through,” Eleanor said. “I was terrified that she was going to do something to her own family in the end, or that she was going to snap.”
“I definitely could tell that the plot was going to center on the morality of drone warfare, right at the start,” Gwen said. “But it takes such interesting turns. It’s as if you try to guess where it’s going, and then, instead of completely subverting the expectations, it just turns a little further to the left. So you follow, and readjust where you think it’s going, but then it turns again. So you readjust, and then it changes…”
“One-point-two seconds later,” Eleanor quoted.
“The result is that you end up in a completely unexpected place, but so gradually that you can’t even tell what happened. It’s effortless writing.”
“I wish the husband and daughter had been characters,” Dania said. “I would have wanted to see them.”
“It’s important that it’s just her,” Gwen pointed out. “Remember the ending?”
“I do,” Dania said. “But why couldn’t they be there?”
Eleanor explained the ending in more detail to Dania.
“OH,” Dania said, with surprise. “That makes more sense. Huh.”
“Like I said,” Gwen repeated, “it gets there so gradually that you don’t even realize you moved. And then you look back and see how far away from its starting point the show actually moves.”
“I enjoyed the lighting design a lot,” Eleanor said. “It was all very simple, but something about that lighting from underneath gives the whole show this nice kind of ‘military base’ feeling. I don’t know what about that lighting makes me think ‘military,’ but it does.”
“Maybe it’s reminiscent of tarmac ground-lights?” Gwen suggested.
“The colored lights right at the front of the glass stage were pretty cool,” Dania said. “The way it shifted from blue to pink. And I think red, at one point?”
“The red lights were all above her,” Gwen said. “Most of the lights were actually above her. It was all backlighting and disorienting angles and shadows. It fit the tone, even if it was a little bit dark throughout.”
“Yeah,” Eleanor said. “It feels weird to criticize the tech at all, when the actress is basically the one major element that matters.”
“I know,” Gwen said. “It’s a tough role, and I’m glad that Tess got to perform it. I’ve seen her in other productions before, and I know that she’s wicked talented. And now she has an opportunity to show how talented she is. Good for her.”
“She has such a powerful voice onstage,” Eleanor said. “It’s like, there’s this whole picture of what’s going on, and when she talks about it, I get a very clear image of what it’s like. How small the trailer is, the desert graveyard…”
“She paints wonderful imagery when she speaks. It’s the sign of a very talented performer, being able to communicate all that with words alone,” Gwen added. “To do all that without becoming just an omniscient narrator, too. She’s got this bravado, swaggering character to herself that comes through even when she’s being pushed too far. It’s a virtuosic performance, and I don’t say that lightly.”
“And with literally nothing else to help her out,” Dania said.
“True,” Gwen agreed. “Other productions of the show have had a chair, or some projections, or other elements. But the stripped-down, one glass platform and no chair design of the thing just lets Tess work the floor and tell the story. It’s very effective.”
“There’s such a fun difference between the levels she gets to, also,” Eleanor said. “Like, there’s all the talk about playing with her daughter, and then seconds later she flips into being at the navy base and being a God who punishes the “guilty.”
“I thought it was strange,” Dania said, after a moment, “that there wasn’t really any discussion of the ethics of what she was doing. Just killing people from far away, in a war she doesn’t really understand.”
“They explain a little about it to her,” Gwen said. “She’s just going off other people’s intelligence about who to kill, and whether or not it’s justified.”
“Sure,” Dania continued. “But where is she even fighting? Where are they getting all the information? Did she really have to kill that – ”
“I don’t think it’s trying to be war propaganda,” Eleanor said, carefully. “If anything, I heard it as very critical of American drone warfare. Both what it does for the war regions and what it does for people back home.”
“But more so for the people back home, maybe,” Dania said, her eyes looking askance.
“Perhaps,” Gwen said. “Not ‘more so,’ but, that there is stress for those at home. At least, that’s what this play would argue.”
“Anyway,” Eleanor said. “I liked it a lot. A very good show. It was serious, but not a huge downer, like other shows on campus.”
“It toes the line very well between being a comedy and a drama,” Gwen said, “without falling into either one until it needs to at the end. A good opening for JTE’s season.”
“Are there other one-woman shows performing on campus anytime soon?” Dania asked.
“Well, I know of one in November,” Gwen said, with a smile.