Saturday, January 20, 2018

Compelling “Grounded” @ Dobama


An unnamed woman (Anjanette Hall), in an Air Force jump suit, confidently stalks the stage telling us, with eyes flashing and intense verbalizations, the thrill she gets from being in the blue, flying missions over enemy territory, and getting together after her missions with the guys to “throw back a few.”  This is obviously a person who is excited about life, as she is living it.

Thus starts Cleveland Heights’ playwright George Brant’s award winning, one-woman show, “Grounded,” now in production at Dobama.   The script was previously given a local staged reading as part of Cleveland Play House’s Fringe Festival.

After the play’s opening exposition scene, we find that the woman falls in love with a man named Eric, gets pregnant, decides to keep the child in-spite of the Air Force rule that women pilots can’t fly while they are pregnant, moves with her family to Las Vegas where she has been reassigned to continue her career, not as a pilot of “real” planes, but of drones who hover over the enemy many miles away from the action. 

Yes, she has become a member of the “Chair Force, the Bermuda Triangle for fighter pilots, as no one ever comes back.”  A satirical, but fortuitous name.

Seated in a windowless trailer, isolated from almost everyone, she spends her time looking at a gray screen, occasionally finding a terrorist and blowing him up, many thousands of miles away. 

She is safe, no danger of crashing her plane or getting shot down, and comes home each night.  But, with the routine of long shifts, repeated similar family time, little personal contact with her former “comrades,” no “blue time,” and little self-fulfillment, our protagonist goes through serious personality changes.  Seemingly, her purpose for life is gone and she spirals out of control, with tragic results.

The play won the 2012 Smith Prize for works about American politics and asks questions about whether the advances in technology have positively or negatively affected the psychological well-being of our armed forces, whether the removal of being actively involved in the “purpose of war” has resulted in PTSD for some former combatants, whether there has to be a rethinking of who should be in the armed forces, and with the changed nature of war, are we more or less safe?

The pilot’s last speech is eerie and maybe scarily true, “You who watch me and think you are safe, know this, know that you are not safe.” 

Think this.  With a quick mood-swinging ego-centric President, who some psychologists declare to be mentally unstable, having access to the red button that could release nuclear missiles that could start World War III or destroy the world, how “safe” are we?

Dobama’s production, under the focused direction of Alice Reagan and the superb tour-de-force performance of Baldwin Wallace professor, Anjanette Hall, is compelling.  No time, during the 85-minute show, does Hall allow the audience’s attention to waver.

Tesia Dugan Benson’s aesthetically pleasing set, though it does little to actually create a visual base for much of the script, is well used by Hall.  Marcus Dana’s light design and Megan Cully’s sound help underscore and enhance the moods and transitions. 

Capsule judgement: “Grounded” is the kind of script and staging on which Dobama fulfills its goal of presenting the best contemporary plays in a professional production of the high quality.  Don Bianchi, the theater’s founder, would have been proud of this must-see production.

“Grounded” runs through February 11, 2018 at Dobama, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Heights.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Next up: “The Effect” by Lucy Prebble.  The setting is a drugs-trial unit at Rauschen Pharmaceuticals, where volunteers are taking an experimental antidepressant called RLU37. A psychiatrist is tracking their behavior, but we in the audience are the ones really keeping watch and being watched.  March 2-25, 2018.