note: entire contents copyright 2014 by Richard Pacheco
“Grounded” by George Brant opens the Gamm’s 30th anniversary season, with a New England Premiere, sparked by superb acting and reverberating intensity. It was selected for the NNPN’s (National New Play Network) Rolling World Premiere program, which begat the Kansas City run, as well as last year’s productions in San Francisco and Tucson. It tells the tale of a hotshot female pilot who can fly with or drink with the best of them. This one person drama takes this hot shot fighter pilot from plowing through the blue of the skies to being grounded when an unexpected encounter leaves her pregnant, and grounded unable to be a fighter pilot.. After her daughter is born, she ends up in Las Vegas in a windowless room, now flying drone on missions, not piloting a fighter. It produces mixed feelings in her, feelings of gratefulness that she can be with her husband and daughter on a daily basis out of harm’s way, and confusion and disoriented by the experience of seeking bad guys from an armchair, not flying a jet, but handling a joystick more like a gamer than a pilot. This juxtaposition leaves its own battle scars and personal impact on her.
Liz Hayes is the ace pilot in the midst of major transition, not only in what she does and how she does it, but in the impact of being a cocky fighter pilot and having a daughter who likes pink ponies, not exactly what she had in mind, her daughter evolving into what she calls a “hair flipper.” Hayes is simply amazing in the role. She delivers a wide range of nuance and sincerity as she takes the pilot from boisterous days of flying a jet and the camaraderie she finds there to her fractured existence as a drone pilot, enmeshed with in a confined space, both physically and mentally. It is a sheer delight, full of taut emotions and convincing shifts in mental attitude and health, transitions that are remarkable and revealing.
The pilots spends her days obliterating the bad guys from her armchair with intense focus and an almost casual indifference. There is an element of unreality in it for her. Then lines begin to blur between her desert war from a distance and her life in Las Vegas. Cracks begin to show as she follows from her drone a man know as “The prophet” who travels through the desert without ever leaving his car for a call of nature, or to get gas.
Judith Swift directs with a keen eye and she knows how to keep things taut and compelling, keeping an eye toward the action even when the play itself falters a bit in that respect. She keeps it all on track, from character nuances to providing grounds for a propelling riveting performance by Hayes.
The set and media by Sara Ossana can often be fascinating with a broad screen behind with airy footage of catapulting through the clouds. At first some of the images are washed out, but then grow in clarity and conviction to make them an incredible enhancement, particularly with the grayed aerial footage of the drones when the done fires on the “bad guys” and they get blown to bits as seen from way high up, the eye in the sky.
The play runs just over an hour with no intermission and a riveting, compelling and intriguing performance by Hayes. It is spellbinding, piercing drama. It lingers in the mind and heart as it broaches topics so common today in so many different ways.
“Grounded” at the Gamm Theatre until Sept. 28, 2014 172 Exchange St., Pawtucket. Tickets are $36-$45. Call (401) 723-4266, or visit gammtheatre.org.