The Rousuck Review
George Brant’s “Grounded “ is a small-scale play with a one-word title, a one-person cast and large-scale subject matter. And, in its Baltimore premiere at Everyman Theatre, it’s receiving a huge performance by Megan Anderson.
Anderson is on stage, seated with her back to us, when we enter the theater. As soon as she faces us, she fills the stage. Adopting a proud, military stance and dressed in the jumpsuit of a fighter pilot, her unnamed character tells us how it felt the first time she put on the suit.
Anderson has played a wide range of roles at Everyman over the years, including some that are this intense. But she hasn’t had the burden of being the entire play.
In “Grounded,” compellingly directed by Derek Goldman, Anderson shoulders this burden with confidence and grit. She talks in the tough style of “one of the guys,” and she walks with a purposeful stride. She becomes an Air Force major with plenty of notches in her belt for strikes on Iraqi targets. She loves her F-16; she loves the ride; she loves the blue sky – she is one with the blue.
At home on leave, she falls in love with a guy who’s not intimidated by her, a guy who’s turned on by who she is and what she does. Back in Iraq, she discovers she’s pregnant. “It’s the ejection seat,” as she puts it.
She stays home with her husband and daughter, until the pull of the blue becomes too strong. But air wars have changed while she was away.
Women in the military have been portrayed on stage, but female drone pilots? Playwright Brant breaks new ground in “Grounded.” Surveillance, the constant eye in sky, killing the enemy long-distance -- with no threat of the pilot’s death. Most of us probably have not given much thought to this type of warfare. Anderson’s character has never taken it seriously.
Set designer Luciana Stecconi, lighting designer Harold R. Burgess, II, and projection designer Jared Mezzocchi situate the play inside the Nevada trailer where Anderson’s pilot stares at screens twelve hours a day. Screens fill the back wall of the set. Early on, we see the mountains of the pilot’s Wyoming home; we see clouds drifting in her beloved sky, we even see her fetal daughter’s ultrasound.
But after she’s reassigned to Nevada, the screens go gray, usually with fuzzy lines. These screens may be hypnotic, but they take their toll on her -- with a jolt.
The word, “grounded” can mean being focused and centered; it can mean a form of punishment; and in the military, “ground forces” can mean boots on the ground.
All of these meanings work their way into George Brant’s play. Combined with Anderson’s unrelenting portrayal and Goldman’s forthright direction at Everyman Theatre, it’s an engrossing look at the ethics of modern warfare, surveillance, survival and one woman’s irresolvable conflict between nurturing and destroying life.
-- J. Wynn Rousuck
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