2014 True West Award: Laura Norman




Just call her Stormin’ Norman.

Laura Norman, the best local actor you hardly ever get to see, has stormed back from a four-year hiatus with back-to-back, award-winning performances for the Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company. First, in a period drama called Ghost-Writer, she won a Henry Award for playing a tightly contained secretary who becomes convinced her dead employer is speaking through her to finish his final novel. Norman, as Westword’s Juliet Wittman aptly called it, “made an art out of stillness and silence.” And then in September, Norman was as tightly wound as a roadside bomb just waiting, waiting to detonate in Grounded, a tough and tender morality play by George Brant that explores how technology has taken the bravery out of modern warcraft.

Norman flew solo in this searing one-woman drama about an unnamed F-16 pilot who is grounded by an unexpected pregnancy and then reassigned to maneuver military drones from the safe confines of a windowless trailer outside Las Vegas. Conferred with god-like powers to mete out vengeance on terrorists at no personal risk to herself, this female version of Tom Cruise in Top Gun is reduced to not much more than a highly skilled video-game player. Only those are real bombs she’s dropping half a world away before she drives home to tuck her kid into bed in Nevada. Inevitably, though, she does detonate. When TV screens allow the pilot to see the real carnage she is inflicting, well – war has never seemed so calculated or cowardly.

Norman, who grew up in Franktown and graduated from Ponderosa High School and the University of Northern Colorado, is locked-in from the start of this play (like Ghost-Writer, directed by Josh Hartwell). Grounded is by definition a political play, given the ongoing controversy over civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes. But in Norman’s hands, the theatrical experience we enjoy is human, personal, messy and necessarily complicated.

We’ll never forget Norman’s Ovation Award-winning performance in 2004 playing Harper, a sex-starved, pill-popping Mormon wife who struggles to face her demons in Angels in America. Harper has much in common with the pilot Norman is now playing. But while the flights of fantasy Harper embarked on in Angels caused little damage to anyone other than herself, the flights our pilot conducts here result in real collateral damage – all from the safety of a basement La-Z-Boy.

In assessing Grounded for Westword, Wittman called Norman “one of the few local actors who can be called ‘great’ without hyperbole.” I couldn’t have said it better, so I won’t even try.

If you missed Norman’s singular performance at the Avenue Theatre in Denver, you now have another chance. The Boulder Ensemble Theatre Company has just announced it is bringing the play back for two weeks only, from Jan. 8-18 at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder. Call 303-444-7328.

Listen to John Moore’s podcast featuring Laura Norman of “Grounded” here.

1: Norrell Moore
2. Kate Gleason
3. Amanda Berg Wilson and Jeremy Make
4. Ben Cowhick
5. Robert Michael Sanders
6. David Nehls
7. Adrian Egolf
8. Emma Messenger
9. Buntport’s Naughty Bits
10. Tim Howard
11. Gleason Bauer
12. Daniel Traylor
13. Aisha Jackson and Jim Hogan
14. Cast of ‘The Whipping Man’
15. Rick Yaconis
16. Michael R. Duran
17. Laura Norman
18. Jacquie Jo Billings
19. Megan Van De Hey
20. Jeremy Palmer
21. Henry Lowenstein   
22. Sam Gregory
23. Wendy Ishii
24. J. Michael Finley
25. Kristen Samu and Denver Actors Fund volunteers
26. Matthew D. Peters
27. Shannan Steele
28. Ludlow, 1914
29. Spring Awakening and Annapurna
30 Theatre Person of the Year Steve Wilson

The True West Awards, which began as the Denver Post Ovation Awards in 2001, are the longest-running continuously administered awards program in Colorado theater. This year, the awards have been re-conceived to simply recognize 30 award-worthy achievements in local theatre, without categories or nominations. A different honoree will be singled out each day for 30 days.

The True West Awards are administered by arts journalist John Moore, who was named one of the 12 most influential theater critics in the U.S by American Theatre Magazine in 2011. He has since founded The Denver Actors Fund and taken a groundbreaking position as the DCPA’s Senior Arts Journalist.

*The DCPA Theatre Company is not considered for True West Awards, which are instead intended as the DCPA’s celebration of the local theatre community.

Moore’s daily coverage of the Colorado theatre community can be found at MyDenverCenter.Org

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