Currently playing at Westport Country Playhouse is “Grounded, a solo, dramatic performance that makes a statement about modern warfare and an American, pilot’s moral dilemma. The fact that the writer, George Brant, chose to build a story around a woman pilot is unique in that relatively few women become ace fighter pilots in the first place – never mind being pregnant. In my opinion, had the play been centered around an injured, male pilot who becomes emotionally challenged by his use of killer drones12 hours a day and then returns to his normal, family life, this play would have had the same impact. Never the less, “The Pilot” (Elizabeth Stahlmann) happens to be a female who was reassigned to the “chair force” where she participated in the remote use of drones.
“The Pilot” in this play makes the point that while she was a fighter pilot flying high up in the glorious “blue,” the exhilaration of the experience, plus the conventional destruction of the enemy did not bother her at all. This statement reminded us of watching the news broadcasts of the Korean and Vietnam Wars while eating TV dinners and ice cream our safe living rooms with the kids playing on the rug. Unless personally involved with the hated enemy, it took a long while to become upset by something taking place so far away. The main point is that war is a dirty business, no matter how one looks at it. Does the ability to actually see the faces of particular individuals and kill them from the other side of the world by simply activating a button make any difference? Will human nature become more civilized or more barbaric as we keep developing more efficient, destructive devices?
Stahlmann, a recent Yale School of Drama graduate who is directed by Liz Diamond, Resident Director at Yale Repertory Theatre, gives a highly emotional performance of this 2016 Lucille Lortel Award-winning play.
Wearing a blue, U.S.A.F jumpsuit and using a chair as her only prop, the actress assumes a masculine persona, and utters mouthfuls of four-letter bar room language. She performs in front of what appears to be the huge door of an airplane hanger. However, with the use of lighting and projections, we later find that this boring background can also represents the big blue sky or a converted control center in the middle of an isolated airfield located in the U.S.
The only problem with the scenery is that when moving images of what “The Reaper” (the latest, multi-million dollar drone) supposedly sends back to the control room are projected onto the background’s contoured surface, they become distorted. We see several; hazy patches of vehicles at once, lots of smoke, and flying debris. It’s hard to feel touched by these multiple action scenes, when the viewer cannot decipher the individuals that Stahlmann is pointing out and getting so emotional about.
Never the less, Opening Night members of the audience were moved by Stahlmann’s outstanding performance and gave this good actress a standing ovation.
Plays to July 29 Tickets: 203-227-4177
This review appears in “On CT & NY Theatre” July/2017