Updated: Mar 20, 2019
Cockroach Theatre Company has attacked a challenging, politically charged drama and come through again with flying colors. “Grounded,” a play by George Brant, won the Smith Prize for Political Theatre in 2012, and is running at the intimate Art Square Theatre through December 13th. This rousing evening of theatre merits a well-deserved and delicious 4 Stars!
This is the story of an ace fighter pilot whose high-flying career is ended early due to an unexpected pregnancy. Reassigned to operate military drones from a windowless trailer outside Las Vegas, she hunts terrorists by day and returns to her family each night. As the pressure to track a high-profile target mounts, the boundaries begin to blur between the desert in which she lives and the one she patrols half a world away -- wrestling with what it means to nurture a new life at home while hunting other lives abroad.
The heroine soars onto the stage at the opening of the play with boundless energy and wastes no time convincing us how pumped up she is about her job as a fighter pilot in the Air Force. In this one-woman tour de force, Mindy Woodhead’s thoroughly engrossing, cocky portrayal of the nameless protagonist leaves no doubt about why she loves everything about her job.
The audience senses her intoxication when she’s up in “the blue,” flying alone, searching out bad guys. It’s the suit, the speed, the danger, the respect. She describes the rush she gets in flight, and the solidarity she shares with her fellow pilots, exuding such pride and excitement that we fully expect her to burst right out of her flight suit.
She comes back to earth to join her colleagues for some well-deserved celebrating, and reveals a bit of her feminine side when she unexpectedly finds herself attracted to a man at the bar. The charm only increases when she finds that her tough-guy job doesn’t intimidate him in the least. “First time I’m sad leave is over,” she says, and jests about the role reversal: “Like some ’50s movie. I’ve got my little woman at home, know who I’m fighting for. All that true corn, true cheese.”
When she discovers she’s pregnant, she’s abruptly taken out of “the blue,” heady sky because pregnant women are prohibited from flying. Reality hits hard, as she is “Grounded… The pilot’s nightmare.”
Andrew Paul’s thoughtful direction combines the picture-perfect projections and wonderfully explicit audio-visual elements of Will Adamson, Brett Bolton and Pat Ferguson, with the vibrant sound design of James Boldt and the dynamic lighting by Ellen Bone, to effectively underscore our heroine’s difficult transition to her new life.
She returns to work after her baby is born. But now she’s assigned to the “Chair Force… the Bermuda Triangle” for fighter pilots, because “no one ever comes back.” She will be piloting a drone flying over unnamed territory while she sits at Creech Air Force Base outside Las Vegas.
This is a searing, thought provoking, and thoroughly engrossing production. The layer of gender politics, the inability to fly free in “the blue,” and watching a grey screen to fly remote-controlled drones over deserts far away would be enough to cause any of us to spiral out of control into confusion and guilt.