This short one-woman play by George Brant explores the devastating impact of detached modern warfare on an air force combat pilot who is grounded to become part of the “chair-force” guiding unmanned drones from a windowless trailer in the Nevada desert.
Directed by Eleanor Crowder, there is little on the starkly set stage—a chair and a large suspended sheet—requiring Alexis M Scott as the unnamed pilot solo lead to deliver a powerhouse and energetic physical performance.
Scott is masterful and fills the stage with bravado and tension.
Scott dominates the opening scene with animated spirited energy as she unveils the freedom and camaraderie of the air force. Her plane “tiger”, her gear, her missions, her accomplishments; all this defines her. The sense of self achievement and her embrace of macho bravery as she soars through “the blue” or decompresses with male colleagues in a bar is intense. She is a self-satisfied, cocky woman happy in her world and proud of the job that defines her.
After meeting Eric, a supportive and accommodating partner, who sees her as “the rock star that I am,” there follows an unexpected pregnancy that leads “the blue” that once defined her so precisely to be replaced. In its place is “the grey,” visual feedback of an unmanned drone pointed directly downwards toward a faraway land. Relegated to flying drones, her cockpit becomes an airless trailer. Here, the solo top gun is part of a team that decides the fate of those far below, though it is her own white-knuckle hand that controls the trigger once judgment is made. The threat of imminent violent reprisal is gone but where she once fled an airstrike she now lingers over the combat zone, surveying the horrible writhing outcome of these strikes.
The immersive long-term battles of old that removed her from family duties are gone, as is the camaraderie that accompanied real-life conflict. Now, she alone must flip a switch between war and domesticity on a 12-hour basis. Initially an attempt to view modern warfare as a gift allowing greater family time gives over to the incongruent juxtaposition of 12 hours of classified violence followed by domestic routine.
Scott paces the stage first ecstatically, even arrogantly, and then as her situation shifts she moves warily with a haunted trepidation. In a resonant scene, on a week’s leave she takes her daughter to the mall where the ubiquitous surveillance cameras overwhelm her as post-traumatic stress engulfs her. The stage lighting glows red and her fixed stare is spot lit as the threatening torment builds and the price of detached warfare is revealed.
Scott is masterful and fills the stage with bravado and tension. Her pacing and eyes easily shift the tenor from swagger and fierce pride to fragility as she too becomes an unhinged casualty of war. This brief theatre touches on much in its 75 minutes from gender roles, modern warfare, motherhood, advocacy, secrecy and self-awareness as it asks us to explore an enemy very close to home.
Bear and Co.’s Grounded is at the Gladstone Theatre (910 Gladstone Avenue) January 18-27. Student, adult and senior tickets are available at the box office or online from $23-39.