|Celeste Oliva as The Pilot|
"Grounded" by George Brant
Central Square Theatre
Through March 22
Here is your pre-flight briefing and description of this play:
"A hot-shot fighter pilot’s career in the skies, 'alone in the blue,' is ended by an unexpected pregnancy. Reassigned to a windowless trailer in the desert outside Las Vegas, by day, she hunts down terrorists, her face lit by the dull grey glow of a drone’s monitor. At night, she returns to her domestic life with husband and daughter. As she tracks a high-profile target half a world away, the pressure mounts.
Named a Top 10 Play of 2013 by The Guardian, London Evening Standard, 'Grounded' was nominated for the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression Award."
Under the careful direction of Lee Mikeska Gardner, Celeste Oliva commands a small circumscribed stage - a pool of light not much bigger than the cockpit of the fighter jet her character, The Pilot, once flew into The Blue. Once she has been grounded by her pregnancy, she eventually returns to work, but finds herself relegated to the "Chair Force," spending twelve hour shifts monitoring and controlling the movements of a drone hovering over a desert 8,000 miles away from her trailer in the Nevada desert. She has traded in the thrill of G-force exhilaration for the boredom of staring at pixels of varying shades of gray - in bondage to the screen and the chair and the relentless monotony. She misses the swagger that comes with being a fighter pilot, and feels the loss of the camaraderie of hanging with "the boys" in a bar after a successful mission.
Playwright George Brant does a stellar job in weaving into the narrative the themes of loss of privacy, and the downward spiral - death spin - that The Pilot undergoes as she settles into her life of boredom interspersed with moments of adrenaline rush as she pilots her distant UAV to attack High Value Targets. She is amazed when she finds that, despite being in no physical danger herself, she still experiences the sweaty palms and white knuckles she knew when she was gripping the controls of her fighter jet.
With no buffer between her 12 hours "at war" and her quotidian time at home with her husband and daughter, she begins to blur the two worlds. The pink of her daughter's My Little Pony and the Gray of the pixels on her screen at work sometimes swap places. The issue of privacy - or lack thereof - is driven home with the introduction of her husband's job as a dealer in a casino, always being watched by the internal "eye in the sky." As a subtle and poignant touch, as the play ends, The Pilot addresses the audience and warns that we are all being watched. At that moment, the screens in the halo display above the stage suddenly broadcast candid pictures of audience members. We are indeed being watched!
And this is a play that must be watched. Attention must be paid! Ms. Oliva's performance alone is enough to warrant filing a flight plan for Central Square. She is supported by the creative team of Steven Royal for Scenic Design, Wen-Ling Liao for Lighting Design, Dewey C. Dellay for Sound Design, and Kathryn Lieber for Production Design. I must note that the Sound Design is subtle and effective - the quiet drone of the UAV hovering over the desert, the murmur of a fetal heart beat when The Pilot learns that she is pregnant, the whisper of desert breezes.
The play will run in Central Square through March 22.
Central Square Theater Website