- Written by George Brant
- Director: Kerry Ann Doherty
- Actors: Carly Street
- Company: theatreSix
- Venue: Streetcar Crowsnest
- City: Toronto
- Year: Runs to Feb. 29
Grounded is the first production of a brand-new theatre company called theatreSix.
It stars Carly Street, a well-known Canadian stage actor who has performed at the Stratford Festival and on Broadway, as an American fighter pilot who is reassigned to fly drones after the birth of her daughter.
Unfortunately, this 2012 solo show written by the American playwright George Brant never really takes off. It feels like a dated magazine article rather than a drama.
When we first meet her, The Pilot, as Street’s character is known, is dropping bombs on “Saddam’s … army” – she inserts a colourful term of abuse in between those words – with a gleeful “boom,” then rhapsodizes about her love for the sky, or, as she calls it, “the blue.” She swoops between the profane and the poetic.
But an encounter on leave with a fellow named Eric – who is not turned off by her powerful profession as (she tells us) most men are, but, in fact, wants to do it with her flight suit on – leaves her pregnant.
Boom. She’s married and raising a daughter named Sam – and missing “the blue” something fierce.
When The Pilot tries to go back to her old job after a few years of full-time motherhood, however, she finds things have changed. She reluctantly becomes part of the “chair force,” stationed in a base in the desert outside Las Vegas. She flies a drone over another desert on the other side of the planet all day long, staring into “the grey” on a screen, then gets to go home to kiss her daughter good night.
While she soon recovers her enthusiasm for blowing people apart from the sky, something about the distance of the actual theatre of war and the closeness of her actual family makes compartmentalizing harder than it used to be – and she begins to unravel. “If combat is risk, if combat is danger, if combat is combat, I am not in it,” she says.
Kerry Ann Doherty, theatreSix’s artistic director, has directed Grounded on what’s known as a traverse stage with Street walking back and forth on a sand-circled catwalk between two banks of spectators.
The sparse design leaves a lot of work to the words and Brant’s characters are much too thinly drawn. Eric is a nice guy; Sam likes ponies; and The Pilot is one of those female characters who busts supposed stereotypes about women in a way that, in the end, only ends up seeming like a reverse stereotype. She likes drinking beer with the guys and hates women who are “hair-flippers.” She likes to be on top during sex and talks about sex quite a bit.
Street delivers those bits about sex in The Pilot’s monologue sheepishly, almost in parentheses. She’s undoubtedly a talented actress – her leading role in Canadian Stage’s 2013-14 production of Venus in Fur perhaps best showed off her knack for combining comedy with heightened theatrics.
But she just doesn’t seem like a great fit with this mostly humourless script that is a mix of overdone metaphor – the blue, the blue, the grey, the grey – and excellent research not worn particularly lightly. As for the plot, it goes exactly where you think it will and I found it tedious to wait for it to go there.
I suspect the past success of Grounded – Anne Hathaway played The Pilot off-Broadway in 2015 under the direction of Julie Taymor – had to do with the play premiering at a time when the use of unmanned combat aerial vehicles in the war on terror was just beginning to get a lot of attention.
From 2020, Grounded feels like a point made a while ago: Drones dehumanize both their victims and those who operate them. OK, great, but where’s the actual play?
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