Grounded is the story of an American female fighter pilot who is fuelled by the adrenalin of a warzone, and her love of the blue sky. Macho in the way she walks and talks, it comes as a surprise when she discovers she’s pregnant. Upon returning to duty after giving birth and getting married, this frequent flyer is reassigned to drone operation, which involves her sitting in a container in the middle of the Nevada desert for 12-hours a day, monitoring the enemy in Pakistan.
Written by George Brant, this play is a personal account of this rock star pilot turned housewife turned drone operator, and her experience of adjusting to motherhood, marriage, and life on the ground. The imagery throughout the script is real and powerful in its complexity, and translates effectively to the audience, who can see everything she’s describes. From the positive pink symbol on her pregnancy test to the grey plume of fire and smoke, which rises from the battlefield, every colour and shape is distinct in its detail.
Grounded is also very rich thematically. The one-dimensional way this pilot interprets the enemy, and her role in the war is disturbing. As is the bravado of the ‘freedom fighting American soldier’, which she impresses upon herself to overpower any doubt in her mind, or vulnerability. She does not discuss, and arguably does not even know what this war is actually about. At one point saying “same war, different desert.”
The impact of this job on her existence at home and in the real world is compelling and thought provoking. Particularly the parallels she draws between the way she plays god as a drone operator watching the “guilty” from the sky above, and the security cameras who monitor her innocently shopping at J. C. Penny, or her husband dealing cards at the Vegas casino.
On top of this, the moments of hysteria and hallucinations she suffers with her daughter are devastating to witness. Ironically this soldier seems more exposed and vulnerable in the safety of her car and home in America, compared to the freedom she felt when she was fighting at war.
This play has a cast of just one. Kate Cole, who performs as the pilot, is outstanding. Dressed in her Air Force uniform, and with her feet firmly fixed on the ground, she commands the audience’s attention from the start. She uses only what’s important, her words, her eyes, her face, her posture, and where appropriate her hands.
As an audience it’s a remarkable performance to be a part of. Essentially you are watching and listening to a single figure on an empty stage, and yet through Cole’s captivating storytelling and her formidable acting you see this character’s entire world and all its detail, as if you were right there.
Throughout Grounded, there is a rainbow of colours mentioned in the story, and reflected on stage, When combined with Brant’s brilliant script and Cole’s amazing performance, in every way this play is a piece of theatre gold.
Alex Theatre St Kilda, 135 Fitzroy Street, St Kilda
Performance: Friday 17 April 2015 – 8.00pm
Season: 15 – 19 April 2015
Grounded will play at Sydney’s Seymour Centre: 1 – 16 May 2015. For more information, visit: www.seymourcentre.com for details.
Image: Kate Cole in Grounded – photo by Jodie Hutchinson
Review: Thomas Jones
Thomas Jones has gained extensive experience over the past seven years both in the UK and Australia working as an editor for Australian Times, and a freelance reviewer for Everything Theatre and FilmDude. He was also an assessor for the Off West End Theatre Awards known as The Offies, and created KangRooviews – a website promoting Australian performing arts in the UK.