REVIEW OF THEATRE SIX PRODUCTION AT STREETCAR CROWSNEST THEATRE
George Brant’s play Grounded has one character who tells an apparently simple story about herself. The plot develops slowly and methodically, and our interest never flags until we reach the tragic end. It makes for superb theatre with an outstanding performance by Carly Street.
The sole character is an unnamed fighter pilot who is ordinary and extraordinary. She is a tough woman, a pilot in the U.S. Air Force fighting in the Middle East. She loves her job and has an almost musical relationship with her uniform and the open sky that she always refers to as the blue.
Almost to her surprise, this tough fighter meets Eric, has sex with him and becomes pregnant. This necessitates a leave of absence. On her return to active duty, she is reassigned to what she contemptuously refers to as the Chair Force. That means operating drones over a desert in the Middle East from a chair in the desert outside Las Vegas.
Her husband gets a job as a card dealer in a casino and they try to balance parenting and careers while he works the night shift and she has to put in 12-hour days.
She is part of a team that tracks enemy movements in the desert, finds them, zeroes in on them and kills them. It is a proxy war where the killing of enemy soldiers is done from a screen thousands of miles from the battlefield. But the strain of family life and taxing work is starting to take its toll on her. She attempts getting help but does not go through with it.
Carly Street is on stage for all of the 80 minutes of the show and, of course, she talks and acts out all the permutations of her story. The changes to and effects on her mental and psychological balance are slow and insidious. She seems to take pride and perhaps pleasure in eliminating enemies on the ground. She yells “boom” with almost delight when she pushes a button and a second and a half later she sees the enemy destroyed. But the enthusiasm may be just a much a cover as genuine feeling.
Carly Street has a small playing area in the Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre’s Scotiabank Community Studio. The set consists of a strip of sand in the shape of a U and an office chair and she walks back and forth in that area telling us her story.
The couple have a routine that is not that much different from what many people live with. They go to work, take care of the child and try to balance the demands of each part of their life. But the power inherent in her job of being able to follow and kill people so far away make her aware of the existence of surveillance cameras everywhere. She starts getting paranoid, for example, about someone watching her in India as she goes to the change room of a department store. Is no one safe?
The pilot becomes part of an assignment to track down an important enemy. He is called Number Two and is later referred to as the Prophet. The drones follow him for days hoping for a definite identification and then liquidation. She becomes obsessed with the chase but is she perfectly well? She starts to believe that she is god.
The Prophet is located driving a car and is followed by the drone and of course viewed by the pilot. He stops. She sees a little girl run to meet him. The little girl looks like her daughter.
I will not spoil the ending for you because it is pivotal to the story.
Brant’s monodrama is a highly demanding play for actor and director. Kerry Ann Doherty shows a steady and intelligent hand in directing Carly Street. The play and the performer must seem normal almost all the time. The pilot is just a normal but capable woman who can do a tough job as a fighter pilot and a drone pilot as well as being a good mother. But all is not as it seems.
This is a fine-tuned and superb production of a terrific play.
Grounded by George Brant in a production by Theatre Six continues until February 29, 2020 at Streetcar Crowsnest Theatre, 345 Carlaw Avenue, Toronto, Ontario M4M 2T1. theatrefront.com, http://crowstheatre.com/