Written by George Brandt, Grounded, is a drama with one character, a female fighter pilot who is never named. She speaks to us directly, chipper and affable, combining the traits of warrior moxie and the simple determination of someone with a job to do. She has earned her place among other cracker- jack fliers, bonding at the local watering hole and enjoying the camaraderie. When a guy approaches who is neither intimidated nor alienated by her prowess, they connect and have sex that very night. Apart from being kindred spirits, they clearly have no use for traditional paradigms. After they marry, he’s happy to stay home and take care of their daughter, cook for her, and stoke the hearth fire for the long stretches when she must be away. Their sex life is spirited and nurturing.
When she is offered the opportunity to pilot a drone, our hero is not overcome with enthusiasm. The vast blue infinity she navigates with the exhilaration of a Valkyrie will no longer be available, only the second-hand experience of remote control. On the upside, she will be able to spend time every day with her husband and daughter, eat dinner at home, enjoy family life more fully. She sits beside other pilots in a trailer, where she looks at colorless landscape on a screen. The level of detachment almost makes it too easy to assault targets, as if swimming a dream. The hours are long and she drives across long, lonely, empty stretches after leaving home and when returning.
By taking us along on her enigmatic odyssey, we begin to identify with the pilot. There is a categorical difference between wielding her gleaming, silver vessel and the enormous robot bird of prey. She begins to undergo a shift in attitude. A sea change. Her job and the psychology that make it possible begins to spill into her civilian time. She forgets to remove her uniform, the richness of familial love begins to dissipate. Her professional focus and unconditional purpose begin to waver.
Despite the possibility that Grounded is based on a true story, the significance of a woman pilot seems undeniable. The warm, lovely photograph of her (belly exposed) during pregnancy, her fear that her daughter’s obsession with “Pretty Pony” means that she’s a “hair-tosser,” the wife she sees running to the car of a target. As she gradually acquires destructive power, we cannot ignore the irony that she also brings life into the world. When this ordeal finally overtakes her, it’s difficult to know how it will resolve itself.
As “The Pilot”, Jenny Ledel handles the task of occupying the stage for 90 minutes with authority and finesse. Ledel is beguiling, convivial, subtle. Fierce and stoic when she needs to be. She accommodates this challenging, enervating role with such skill and implacable dedication. She will get under your skin and sneak into your dreams.
Second Thought Theatre presents Grounded playing January 11th– February 4th, 2017. Bryant Hall (Kalita Humphreys Campus) 3636 Turtle Creek Blvd, Dallas, Texas 75219. www2tt.co. 866-811-4111.