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Theater

'Grounded' does more than drone on about modern pilots

| Thursday, March 27, 2014, 8:55 p.m.
Kelly McAndrew as the pilot at The City Theatre Tuesday, March 25, 2014.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Kelly McAndrew as the pilot at The City Theatre Tuesday, March 25, 2014.
Kelly McAndrew as the pilot in 'Grounded' at The Hamburg Theatre/City Theatre Tuesday, March 25, 2014.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Kelly McAndrew as the pilot in 'Grounded' at The Hamburg Theatre/City Theatre Tuesday, March 25, 2014.
Kelly McAndrew as the pilot in 'Grounded' at The City Theatre Tuesday, March 25, 2014.
Heidi Murrin | Tribune-Review
Kelly McAndrew as the pilot in 'Grounded' at The City Theatre Tuesday, March 25, 2014.

The last few months have been pretty exciting for Cleveland playwright George Brant.

Brant's drama “Grounded” made its United Kingdom debut last summer at the Edinburgh Festival, and then transferred to London, where the London Evening Standard listed “Grounded” as one of the year's 11 best productions. It also received the Off-West End Theatre Award for best production of 2013.

“You were unlikely to find a better play about the way we live and fight wars today than George Brant's slippery monologue,” wrote London Guardian theater critic Lyn Gardner when that newspaper also named “Grounded” one of the 10 best theater events of 2013.

“It has been pretty overwhelming, for sure,” says Brant, who has written some two dozen plays, many of which have had regional and international productions. “I didn't know what kind of reception (‘Grounded') was going to get … how it was going to translate.”

It will return to London's Gate Theater in late April, after which that production will transfer to the Studio Theatre in Washington, D.C., in June.

Productions also are scheduled for Melbourne, Australia and Chicago.

But Pittsburgh audiences will have a chance to see this one-woman drama beginning March 29 at City Theatre on the South Side.

“Grounded” is a monologue delivered by a fearless female U.S. Air Force pilot who loved flying combat missions over enemy territory before she was grounded by an unexpected pregnancy.

After her daughter is born, “The Pilot” returns to duty in a new role.

The F-16 jets she flew have been replaced by remote-controlled drones located in Afghanistan but controlled from an air-conditioned trailer in an Air Force base in the desert outside Las Vegas.

Her missions have been reduced to a 12-hour shift sitting in front of a gray-screen monitor, guiding the drones that guard military convoys and take out bad guys in another desert on the other side of the world, then returning home in time for dinner with her husband.

It's a scenario that intrigued Brant soon after he began research for the play in 2012.

“I had assumed the planes were flown by pilots in the country the enemy was living in. When I found they were flown from a trailer and in Las Vegas, which is such an unreal place to begin with, there was this blurring of the lines between what is real and not real,” Brant says. “Now, instead of making the mental leap when soldiers come home once a year, (they) come home and sit around the kitchen table and talk to their kids about homework. And they're not able to talk about what they did.”

The play deals with the stress this new way of waging war creates, says Brant, who notes that the pilots working with drones experience the same rate of post-traumatic stress disorder as those in conventional combat.

Brant also is concerned about the moral implications of drones and waging war from afar.

“They do keep pilots out of danger,” he says. “But we do have to be careful about what standards we set; with the fairness of war and how we are not really in combat. … I do think these wars are really, at this point, fought in a secret vacuum. It's very easy for people to pretend (they are) not happening and that is bothersome to me.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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