Through January 22|
GROUNDED Kavinoky Theatre
By Augustine Warner
War so sterile it’s fought on a black and white video screen, video games with real death.
That’s George Brant’s “Grounded,” featuring an amazing and harrowing one-woman performance from Aleks Malejs.
She’s The Pilot, a combat fighter pilot, grounded first when she gets pregnant by a bar guy and then when she wants to come back, she’s sent off to an air base outside Las Vegas to fly a Barcalounger, using a joy stick to fly a Reaper drone in a time zone 12 hours away, with a lag time of 1.2 seconds before the drone reacts.
She leaves her now husband and her young daughter and drives an hour out into the desert to fly her chair, a major in the “chair force,” instead of an F-16 pilot in the Air Force.
The Air Force has a lot of problems in its drone pilot force because there aren’t enough of those pilots and they have to work lots of overtime when they would probably rather be piloting fighters, another area of shortage.
For Malejs’ character, being a fighter pilot is her identity and she loves the hard working, hard drinking lifestyle.
Now, she’s a married mom with an hour-long commute.
Her husband becomes a casino card dealer and her daughter loves to spend time with her mother, who leaves early and gets home late, working those 12-hour shifts on the joystick.
She spends those work hours staring into those screens, surrounded by a team of video game grads who see dropping bombs and rockets like playing “Assassins Creed.”
Many flying roles are somewhat similar, the bombers which drop their bombs from 30,000 feet or missile crews which fire and forget their war heads.
The pilots in Vietnam on Yankee Station lived in pleasant staterooms on a carrier and returned to them, after dicing with missiles over North Vietnam jungles, farmlands and cities.
The Pilot is even more distant from death because it’s remote control.
Those 12 hour shifts wear her down, damage her relationship and ultimately she starts to crack.
Days of chasing one particular terrorist become too much, wrecking her life at home and destroying her career and leaving her facing court-martial.
It’s a savage look at the modern military, not the grunts with weapons where they look over sights to see someone aiming at them.
Instead, it’s dealing out death from 10,000 miles away.
It’s the kind of video game Americans became familiar with in the first Gulf War a quarter of a century ago, images of “smart” bombs and “stealth” fighters and an antiseptic war, at least from this end.
Yet there are real people firing those weapons and flying those planes and real people die.
There is a price for fighting that video war, a real price affecting real people.
That’s why Malejs is so good, exemplifying that price, the restless shifting of a person on the edge of mental catastrophe, unable to separate life’s reality and the gray images on a computer screen of the hunt.
Director Kristen Tripp Kelley does a wonderful job of bringing that life out into the Kavinoky seats, using a high-tech set from David King, with sound design from Geoffrey Tocin, video design from Brian Milbrand and soundscape orchestrations from David Kane.
“Grounded” is the first new show of the New Year and it should be at the top of your schedule to see this relatively short run and make you think, a lot.
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