Much is written about war because we need constant reminding of its devastating effects. George Brants gripping 2012 play, Grounded, goes inside a female fighter pilots head to examine her conflicting loyalties to country and family, as well as the dehumanization of the death she inflicts though virtual technology. Manbites Dog Theaters production is a roller coaster ride that will stay in the mind long after viewing.
A woman in a flight suit tells the audience about her life. Shes a feisty F-16 pilot who loves flying and is expert at her bombing raids. She meets a man in a bar and unexpectedly falls in love. After she has a child, shes assigned to fly drones from a remote facility in Nevada, targeting enemy convoys half a world away by computer screen rather than cockpit trigger.
At first this cripples her spirit and self-worth, but soon shes intrigued by the technology and also happy to be at home with her family every night. But eventually she becomes restless, missing the thrill, and begins obsessing about being the one to wipe out the enemys No. 2 man, affecting her relationships with co-workers and family.
On the surface, Brants script seems down to earth and colloquial, but he subtly works in thematic images and parallel situations that give the piece great depth. Even the title has a double meaning, referring to the pilots new job and the change having a family brings. The script quietly sets up a range of questions about the morality of war and the vagaries of human nature.
Madeleine Lambert establishes the pilots fierce character from her first lines, reeling out her monologue in intense spurts, with unflagging energy, for an amazing 75 minutes. She makes the pilots surroundings vivid and her dilemmas visceral in an admirably nuanced performance that leads to a moving climax.
Director Talya Klein gives Lambert just enough movement to illustrate the action on an empty platform, a folding chair the only prop. Andrew Parks lighting adds subtle mood shifts, and Jon Haas brief video effect thoughtfully ends the play.
The power of live theater to engage and provoke is perfectly demonstrated in this fine production, another winner in Manbites Dog Theaters strongest season in years.