Monday, January 27, 2014


Hannah Cabell
Photo: Rob Strong
The Pilot's name doesn't matter because being a pilot is absolutely what she is, over all other forms of identification. She lives to fly "My Tiger/My gal who cradles me lifts me up." She also rains destruction
on the minarets and concrete below me
The structures that break up the sand
I break them back down
Return them to desert
To particles
At least I think I do
I'm long gone by the time the boom happens
Tiger and I are on to another piece of sky
She doesn't date much: "Most guys don't like what I do/Feel they're less of a guy around me/I take the guy spot and they don't know where they belong." But then she meets Eric:
This one’s eyes light up
This one thinks it's cool
This one kisses me in the parking lot like I'm the rock
star I am

Soon she's pregnant, which means she's grounded: "It's the ejection seat/'Cause an ejection would be an ejection/A G-Force abortion." However,
I take one last flight
The both of us
So she can have a taste of what it means
Get it in her blood
Let her know that there is this
That this could be hers one day
That she will not be a hair-tosser
A cheerleader
A needy sack of shit
There is this
There is blue
The Pilot and Eric marry, and she settles down more happily than she might have guessed. For a while, anyway:
I love her and him I so I ignore the tight ball-bearing in my
sternum I do for years three years but it grows it grows I'll
scream if I don't get out and up I was born for this but I
was born for that too I don't can't can't not be there be up
alone alone in my sky
Eric understands:
He wants me to go
Excited even
Says he'll get his bragging rights back
I kiss him
This is why I married you this is why you are mine
So The Pilot heads back to active duty, only to discover that the Air Force has turned into the "Chair Force." No longer will The Pilot be soaring over the Middle East; instead, she will be sentenced to 12-hour days at a computer in Las Vegas, operating a drone, carrying out "personality strikes" of individual human targets. She is devastated, but tries to make the best of things:
I have been given a gift
I get to fly again
Sort of
But I will not be eight thousand miles away while I do it
I will see my daughter grow up
I will kiss my husband goodnight every night
No tracer fire
The threat of death has been removed
But, of course, it is only the threat of her death that has been removed, and although she is in Las Vegas and her targets are in the Middle East, the advanced optics of the drones will actually bring her closer to the people she kills. She will see the explosions and "Flying through the air/Body parts/Those must be body parts/Huh/Body parts." But it's okay, because they're "Guilty body parts." Or is it okay?

George Brant's Grounded is an important, fascinating, and upsetting exploration of identity, right and wrong, war, compassion, and love. Running 70 minutes, with The Pilot the only character, it is focused and intense, and it is quite well-acted and directed by Hannah Cabell and Ken Rus Schmoll, respectively. Brant's writing manages an excellent balance between poetry and devastating story-telling.

I was struck by Brant's choice to make the pilot female. In the New York Times, he said, “Somehow, having a woman‘s voice in connection with a new technology brings a certain newness and freshness to the play as a whole. The story of war has been told so many times from a male perspective.”

That's certainly true, and I'm glad that Brant made The Pilot female, but I wonder, does Brant believe that women, particularly mothers, feel sympathy/compassion differently/more than men do? Is The Pilot supposed to be unique or representative? Or both? Would Grounded be the same if it were about a father rather than a mother? Men and women can be so different and yet so similar. But perhaps being a pilot trumps gender?

And I have questions about my own perceptions as well. Would I have found Grounded as devastating if it were about a man? I think I might have actually found it more devastating, perhaps due to my own gender-related assumptions/beliefs. On a whole, however, I agree with Brant that making The Pilot female brings "a certain newness and freshness."

What's most important is that Grounded seizes the audience's emotions and doesn't let go.

(second row, press ticket)

No comments: