Billed as a “Festival of American Short Plays,” Throughline Artists’ Summer Shorts at 59 E 59 theaters rarely disappoints. The 2018 presentation is no exception. The festival’s “A Series” highlighted Chris Bohjlian’s first foray into playwriting, simply titled “Grounded.” I’m happy to say that it’s an altogether successful one. “Grounded” is a dialogue between two United Airlines flight attendants readying for take off at John F. Kennedy airport. Emily, played with admirable dexterity by Bohjalian’s daughter, Grace Experience, is in her mid twenties and has become a stewardess on a dare of sorts from an old lover. The hip, fast-talking Karen (K.K. Glick) is a mother of two teenagers and has been in the flying business for years now. They are a study in contrasts: Karen a cheeky, likable know-it-all, while Emily comes off as more earnest and well-meaning. Did I mention that she’s afraid of flying?
When the play opens, the audience senses that the two are going to clash. Trying to avoid Karen’s probing about her ex-boyfriend and life coach Vladimir, Emily an ex-barista offers some wonderful one-liners to divert her attention (“Wanna know the secret to a great espresso? Use a warm cup.”) The line isn’t funny in and of itself but it turns out that Chris Bohjalian’s talent for dialogue, evident in novels as different as The Sandcastle Girls and The Flight Attendant, translates perfectly into this two-person short play format. The line is perfectly placed to offset the gravity of Karen’s enquiries (There are also quite a few humorous plane jokes to liven things up!). Emily, it turns out, isn’t as fragile as she seems. She’s actually one tough cookie. And Karen cares a lot more about people than her tendency at one-liners at first leads us to believe.
As the play unravels, the two women fold napkins and update the grounded passengers on new developments. They slowly become friends and secrets unfurl—as does a storyline that plays directly into today’s #MeToo polemic. Bohjalian ably merges issues of age and gender and presents the abuse polemic in more depth than some others—i.e. when does a woman bear responsibility and to what extent? It’s a welcome change. Grace Experience (whose credits include regional productions of Our Town, Frankenstein and Beauty and the Beast) is one of our finest young actresses. K.K. Glick who played Vanessa on Showtime’s Odd Mom Out is a true comedic talent. Oscar winner Alexander Dinelaris’ flawless direction doesn’t hurt their cause, either. Grounded is being accompanied at the festival by Robert O’Hara’s The Living Room and Abby Rosebrock’s Kenny’s Tavern.
Grounded is running in New York from July 20 to September 1, 2018. Click here for more details and for ticket information.