BWW Review: Danko Delivers Dynamic Debilitating Dark Descent in GROUNDED
GROUNDED is a 2012 drama from George Brant that won the National New Play Network's 2012 Smith Prize and the Fringe First award at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Street Corner Arts production of the play is the first time his work has been done in Austin since he graduated with an MFA in Writing from the Michener Center for Writers at the University of Texas at Austin. George Brant's play was one of the earliest theatrical explorations of this unnerving new form of war.
GROUNDED is the story of an unnamed female fighter pilot (Sarah Danko) in the United States Air Force whose pregnancy causes her superiors to reassign her, post-maternity leave, from flying F-16s to the "chair force," as a reluctant drone pilot. This exposure to the disorienting realities of conducting warfare remotely in mundane twelve hours shifts slowly begins to make her question both her work and her life as her sanity begins to unravel. As the pressure to track a high-profile target mounts, the boundaries begin to blur between the desert in which she lives and the one she patrols half a world away. The play, through the character, raises some important questions. Does how you personally benefit matter when you are required to kill people far away in what is essentially a video game with real life consequences? And, in the final analysis, what difference does the location make to the dead, or "the guilty" as the voices in the headset calls them, when their fatal blow is delivered?
The set, designed by Chris Conard and Rommel Sulit, contains a lone chair in front of a scrim in a sterile circle of grey with vague outer edges... literally the proverbial grey area. The tech here is superbly subtle. The video and sound design of Lowell Bartholomee slyly uses a minimum of sound to great effect. Pool balls connecting establishes a bar scene. Scene changes use a video black wipe on the scrim that is vaguely reminiscent of the transition between pictures on a View-Master. Imagery on the scrim is appropriately blurry or clear as the characters emotional and mental state warrant. A masterwork of editing indicates listening to an entire mixtape in a blur of sound that still clearly lets you know every song on the tape in a matter of mere seconds. Chris Conard's lighting design uses intensity and color washes to establish mood and mental state.
However, at the core of what makes this such a riveting evening of theatre is the thoughtful, sensitive direction of Benjamin Summers combined with the fearless and emotionally raw performance of Sarah Danko, who connects with the audience on multiple levels, making and holding eye contact throughout the almost confessional eighty minute monologue. Summers staging allows us a window into selected moments of an agitated, pacing mind, much like the experience of changing images on a View-Master. The end result is both engaging and revelatory.
GROUNDED is an excellent production of an important work with an extremely timely message that slyly draws you in. I highly recommend this production for those who enjoy theatre that gives you a lot to think about and discuss long after you've left the building. This is a beautifully theatrical work that does what theatre does better than any other medium.
GROUNDED by George Brant
Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes with no intermission
GROUNDED, produced by Street Corner Arts at Hyde Park Theatre (511 West 43rd Street, Austin, TX, 78751).
April 06 - April 21, 2018
Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 PM
Special Industry Night, Monday, April 16 at 8 pm
Tickets: April 6-19: $20, General Admission; $15 Educators + Students with ID
Final Fri-Sat Tix, April 20-21, $22 General Admission; $17 Educators + Students with IDE
For tickets and more information visit www.streetcornerarts.org