BWW Reviews: GROUNDED in Westport
In the 90-minute play, performing without an intermission, Stahlmann plays an unnamed female pilot who is passionate about flying in the Air Force. "You are alone in the vastness and you are the blue," she explains. "Astronauts, they have eternity. But I have color. I have blue." She adds, "I'm long gone by the time the boom happens."
While on leave, she goes to a bar with her Top Gun peers. "Most men don't like what I do," she says. "Feel they're less of a guy around me. I take the guy spot, and they don't know where they belong." Eric, a civilian there, thinks her uniform is a turn-on. They get married and have a baby. From the start, she knows she won't have an abortion, but she knows she will no longer be able to fly. As much as she loves her family, she is itching to get back to flying. "I never wanted to take it off," she says about her uniform. "This is who I was now who I'd become through sweat and brain and guts. This is me." But technology has changed what she does. They use drones now, and she begins a 12-hour shift, seven days a week with "The Chair Force." Day after day she does the same mind-numbing job in a windowless room in the desert of Nevada, staring at objects on a grey screen as she hunts down terrorists, and then she comes home, kisses her husband and daughter, watches TV, and goes to bed. One day she cracks. She imagines seeing her daughter on the screen, and she can't bring herself to bomb the girl she sees.
This portrait, flawlessly played by Stahlmann, is not unusual. Many soldiers suffer from PTST. The play evokes questions about that, especially since women are twice as likely to get it. How do women soldiers reconcile their ability to kill and their ability to give life? StahlmAnn Humanizes the pilot and her meltdown in a credible way. Riccardo Hernandez's simple military/industrial set design complements the dismal work conditions of the drone operators. Kate Marvin's sound design and Solomon Weisbard's lighting are perfect. But Yana Birÿkova's projections are spectacular. Kudos also to Liz Diamond for her excellent direction. This is a play that is especially timely because this year is the 100th anniversary of the U.S. military service's using clones (also referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles) and the fact that the U.S. is still at war in Afghanistan after nearly 16 years. The Air Force is training more pilots for drones than for conventional aircraft. As of mid-2016, there have been an estimated 4,189 militants and 479 civilians killed by drones.
See Grounded at the Westport Country Playhouse, 25 Powers Court, Westport, now through July 29. Call 203-227-4177 or visit: www.westportcountryplayhouse.org.