|Elizabeth Stahlmann as The Pilot in "Grounded."|
The art of war has grown more sophisticated and lethal with the advent of technological advances. In 2002 weaponry took a quantum leap forward when a drone was used for the first time in combat. These small, pilotless aircraft had enough firepower to level a fortified bunker as well as the precision to target an individual enemy combatant. Since the early part of the 20th century drone usage has risen dramatically. The increase in this new breed of military hardware has also necessitated a different type of aviator or, as The Pilot in George Brant’s provocative, ripped-from-the-headlines one-person show states, The Chair-Force.
At the center of the play is the nameless female pilot who lives for soaring through the heavens in F-16 fighters. After an inadvertent pregnancy grounds her she is eventually shifted to a desk job guiding drones on their silent missions. At first rebellious over the assignment, she eventually settles into the routine of long, tedious hours watching a monitor in a small cubicle, hoping for some action that would take place thousands of miles away. While not glamorous, the position affords her a 9:00-5:00PM job and time with her daughter and husband. Slowly, though, the physical and psychological demand from the tedium and stress begins to take its toll on her personal life as well as her career, resulting in unforeseen results.
Playwright George Brant has crafted a mostly engrossing story that is at times riveting, humorous, and shattering. He has taken an aspect of modern day warfare that most of us know little about and illuminated it with both dramatic flair and subtlety. The language can be coarse and penetrating. Together they give an air of authenticity to the to the story.
Actress Elizabeth Stahlmann delivers a gripping and captivating performance as The Pilot. Her every emotion, every nuance is openly on display. This total embodiment of the character by the actress, whether sky high with exhilaration or distressed over her disquieting circumstances, draws the audience deeper into the recesses of her soul. Her mannerisms, overt and slight, add a richer dimension to the role.
Managing the performance of a one-person show can be difficult. But Director Liz Diamond has done a laudable job in making the play interesting and compelling. She has skillfully taken Ms. Stahlmann and molded her into a believable character, celebrating her joys and exposing her anguish. Ms. Diamond has reduced the performing space to a minimum, giving the audience a feel for the confined and sequestered space of The Pilot. She has also judiciously integrated projections into the production.
Yana Birykova’s projection designs, emblazoned across the back of the stage, allows the audience to surreptitiously view what The Pilot is seeing in her viewfinder. Their prudent use, along with Kate Marvin’s sound design and Solomon Weisbard’s lighting design it gives an added dimension of urgency and reality to the show.
Grounded, playing at the Westport Country Playhouse through July 29th.