American Blues Theater at Greenhouse Theater Center. By George Brant. Directed by Lisa Portes. With Gwendolyn Whiteside. Running time: 1hr 20mins; no intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
The woman at the center of George Brant’s solo play was born to fly. An Air Force fighter pilot, she describes the feeling of being up in “the blue” as though it’s some kind of mythical realm and wears her flight suit like a second skin. But she gets put on administrative leave after becoming pregnant—a development she’s a little uneasy about, having paid so many dues to become one of the boys. But when she informs her civilian boyfriend, he’s elated, and the two decide to get married.
When she’s ready to return to the skies after having the baby, a girl, she’s told she’s getting a new assignment: F-16s are on their way out, and drones are the wave of the future. She, her husband and daughter relocate to Las Vegas, where she becomes part of what she derisively refers to as “the Chair Force,” piloting an unmanned aircraft 8,000 miles away.
Brant is interested in the psychological effects of remote-control warfare, and what it means for drone operators to be able to go off to war every day and come home every night, unable to share anything about their work with their non–security-clearanced loved ones. Imagine, our pilot asks us, if Odysseus had been able to return home every night: “The Odyssey would have been a very different book.”
Gwendolyn Whiteside nicely captures the pilot’s fear of domesticity; in a smart detail that neither Whiteside nor the script ever calls attention to, she wears a rubber band around her wrist that she snaps every time she catches herself sneering at marriage or parenthood, as if to train herself like a lab rat.
Brant’s language can get a little precious in its play for military poetics—the pilot laments her removal from “the blue” in favor of “the gray,” the monochrome screen she stares at for 12 numbing hours a day before going home to stare at another screen with her husband. But immersive projection design by the always impressive Mike Tutaj and Whiteside’s immersive performance help Grounded achieve liftoff.