Fall Arts Preview | Theater: Stories aching to be told

Swift on 'Grounded,' and a sneak peek at the season
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  September 10, 2014

UP TO THE TASK Hayes as The Pilot. [Photo by Peter Goldberg]

The fall theater season is bustling with promising productions, from a drama that’s known as Russia’s Hamlet to a dark comedy about a town hired to murder a millionairess’s former lover.

But perhaps the most intriguing play is  Grounded , by George Brant, which the  Sandra Feinstein-Gamm Theatre is staging through September 28. It’s an intense one-woman drama about a scrappy fighter pilot whose unexpected pregnancy lands her behind a desk, remotely controlling terrorist-hunting drones in Afghanistan from the comfort of an air-conditioned trailer near Las Vegas. Unsurprisingly, workday tensions and attitudes bleed into her family life.

Some questions put to its director at Gamm, Judith Swift, proved illuminating.

What was your response when you first encountered the play? It’s high time someone wrote a compelling play about this extraordinary shift in wartime strategy and the accompanying “rules of engagement.” I immediately was drawn into a game of intellectual leapfrog. Shouldn’t you have to show up at the O.K. Corral? Is it possible for war to be fair? Should fairness even enter the equation? Is war a social contract of sorts? Why not kill from the safety of your Barcalounger?

Have you seen it staged? No, and I much prefer to direct plays I have never seen before. It is far more interesting to enter a world with a blank canvas.

What does having the drone pilot be a woman rather than a man add to the dramatic possibilities? I suppose it does add a dash of anticipated feminism to the dramatic brew, but the playwright creates a series of events that could evolve as easily with a male if we substitute pregnancy for another benign reason for grounding a pilot. The female gendered behavior of the husband adds fascinating layers to the interplay between the war room and the bedroom. I suppose those with a women-have-no-place-in-warfare bent will see the pilot’s challenges as female weakness when the truth is that men experience the same trauma post their warrior high. One hopes any human would.

Brant has tinkered with the play over the past couple of years, such as expanding on the relationship between the pilot and her husband. Anything new for your production? I have stayed away from any reviews of previous productions so I couldn’t really say in any detail. However, I just learned a bit in passing the other day about an earlier staging that surprised me and I can say that this production is 180 degrees from that earlier incarnation. Sure, productions can be better or worse, but most often they are just different in vision and expression of same. Our team worked to tell the story in a vivid way that we believe is true to the playwright’s intent even if it is outside the boundaries of what he envisioned as he wrote Grounded. Brant gives us language that pours forth like a flash flood forming an arroyo. You have to work hard to keep your head above water. Fortunately, Liz Hayes, who plays the pilot, is wildly up to the task.

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