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The war within

The Gamm's 'Grounded' is astonishing
By BILL RODRIGUEZ  |  September 10, 2014

0912_Ground_top.jpg 
ON THE HOMEFRONT Hayes. [Photo by Peter Goldberg]

Wow.

You know how some theater productions keep piling on elaborate sets and costumes to maintain your interest? So it’s all the more astonishing that a one-person play can have the jarring, echoing impact that Grounded, by George Brant, leaves you with in the performance by Liz Hayes at the Gamm (through September 28).

It is a compelling combination of intelligent text and thoroughly inhabited performance, sensitively directed by Judith Swift.

Stage center on a raised round platform is a black Naugahyde Barcalounger. When the actor steps in, dressed in a green flight suit, she doesn’t go to the chair immediately. That’s saved for her comfortable reward when, after she describes her exciting experiences as an F-16 fighter pilot, she steps into her later job in the “Chair Force,” piloting drones 8000 miles away.

Hayes couldn’t be more energized at the beginning as her excited character tries to explain the exhilaration of owning the blue she flies through. A background projection screen lets us see this, as well as later actual footage of drone strikes on suspicious behavior, such as groups of military-age men acting suspiciously on the side of the road as an American convoy approaches.

We know the eventual drone operator only as The Pilot. She ended up sitting on a soft lounge chair rather than strapped into her fighter seat because she became pregnant, a job change she suspects was punishment for domesticity.

Not that her subsequent marriage was something she regrets; on the contrary. The unseen Eric had picked her up at a pilots’ bar, attracted to a woman in a flight suit, since at first he asks that she put it on when they have sex. But he proves to be a good guy, willing to stay home with their toddler Samantha, though he eventually gets a job as a blackjack dealer, under the watchful eye of monitoring cameras himself. His wife’s new workplace is at Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas, in a windowless, air-conditioned trailer, piloting a missile-sprouting drone. Making up for relinquishing the thrill of flying is that “I used to transition home once a year. Now it will be once a day.”

When she begins her new task, The Pilot is still white-knuckled as she stares at the ground below her aircraft for hours at a time, looking for suspicious activity. That’s so even though, speaking for other such Barcalounger pilots, “The threat of death has been removed from our lives.” There she is, pushing a joystick instead of a throttle, delivering hellfire from the heavens 1.2 seconds after she presses a button, connected by earphone to a small team who have to agree.

At one point she observes, “It would be a different book, The Odyssey, if Ulysses came home every day.”

Yes, this new practice of being a commuter-warrior with a lethal video game for a weapon gives us a lot to think about. Doesn’t the lethality being risk-free have to figure into the equation of guilt and moral responsibility? Isn’t it inevitable that a cavalier attitude toward killing will result from such remoteness?

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