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Theater Notes: ‘Cabaret’ and ‘Grounded’: Brilliant double feature

By Staff | Apr 4, 2018

Sidney Simon

Two Fort Myers theaters brought us two plays that I call “must sees” for your theater season. I know they were that for me. The first is “Cabaret” at the Florida Repertory Theatre. I suspect many of you who love theater have seen it in the past, but probably not quite as masterful as this one.

The Kander & Ebb musical “Cabaret” lifted Joel Grey to stardom. As the emcee, he won an Academy Award, Tony Award and Golden Globe Award. Gary Troy, who plays the role, earned loud cheers at the curtain call and he deserved them. I saw Grey twice over the years; Troy, you have nothing to worry about. My highest accolade goes to the director, Stephanie Card, for her masterful handling of this mammoth cast. There were so many creative touches added to what she did to make this old chestnut better than ever.

I’m sure most of you know the story. It is Germany, 1930s, a country beaten down after World War I, a country where everything had come apart. But, in the Cabaret, “Life is Beautiful.” A young American – based on Christopher Isherwood – comes to Berlin to write his novel. He is well played by Britt Michael Gordon, who had a starring role in “Last Night of Ballyhoo.” He gets tangled up with a woman from England, the flamboyant Sally Bowels, a bar girl, dancing and singing her head off and with her sights on the American. I only have room to highlight one other extraordinary performance, Lori Wilner as Fraulein Schneider. Her voice is superb, and when she sings “What Would You Do?” your eyes might be wet.

Oh, and what glorious dancing there is with Kit Kats. There is so much to like in the play. You won’t be at all disappointed with what the Florida Rep has done with it. It grabs you right up to the highly dramatic last scene. I predict a sellout. Get those tickets fast at 239-322-4488.

The second play, “Grounded” by George Brant, is one of the most powerful confronting plays of my season. It is a startling one-woman show staring Katie Pankow, who plays an ace fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Pankow captures every nuance. We are drawn to this magnetic woman as the brilliant set designers, Bill Taylor and Curtis Jones, light up the projected background that shows the blue blue sky that the pilot loves with a passion that is incomparable.

As fate or exuberance happens, the pilot gets pregnant and can’t fit in the plane, or the Air Force’s view of what a pregnant woman can do. And she gets “grounded” and sent to a windowless trailer out in the desert outside Las Vegas, where she will operate drones to hunt for terrorists. No longer looking up to the wild blue yonder, she looks down, at a screen of what the drone sees. Now she is in what she calls “The Chair Force.” Her husband and baby join her and seem trapped in her despair.

The play raises serious issues about what supporting war does, not only to the people it kills, but to what it does to the families of the people we send to war. The play says we are all witnesses. I urge you to mark your calendars now because thanks to Taylor, who so brilliantly directed Pankow, lucky Sanibel gets to see “Grounded” at the BIG ARTS beginning April 11. Call 239-395-0900 for tickets. I go on record to say, you will not want to miss this powerful experience.