A hotshot fighter pilot is grounded after she becomes pregnant. After several years, she is ready to be “in the blue” again, but finds herself still on the ground as she will now pilot a drone. Her relegation to the “Chair” Force and finally witnessing the real horrors of war cause her to slowly lose her sense of identity and her mind won’t be far behind if the spiral can’t be stopped. This is Grounded by George Brant and currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Brant’s script displays a minute understanding of what being in the military means to somebody completely dedicated to the military. Brant’s unnamed pilot exudes that unbreakable sense of brotherhood with the constant camaraderie which includes not only hanging out together, but the blue language one often finds in the barracks. But Brant’s pilot also shows the danger of one’s identity being wrapped up in what he or she does as opposed to who she or he is as the changes to warfare and inability to fly slowly rob the pilot of her sense of self. Brant’s play title actually holds a number of meanings within the context of the show. The pilot is grounded in the sense that she is not permitted to fly. In her own mind, she is grounded in the sense of punishment when she is forced to pilot a drone. As she loses herself, she loses the things that kept her grounded.
Kimberly Faith-Hickman keeps all of these ideas and a great deal more in mind with her direction of this play. The staging is absolutely impeccable as she uses a plexiglass cell designed by Jim Othuse which serves the double purpose of keeping the actor socially distant from the audience, but also represents the cell that slowly builds around the Pilot over the course of the show. Her managing of the play’s numerous beats is precisely on point and the changes always ring true. Faith-Hickman’s guidance of her sole performer is a work of art as she lets the story build slowly and organically before reaching its tense climax and crushing resolution.
Leanne Hill-Carlson’s rendition of the Pilot is splendid and nearly flawless. Her Pilot is definitely a tomboy as she curses at a PhD level, enjoys a beer and burger with her brothers-in-arms, and has a real sense of swagger and machismo. The Pilot has a confidence that often bleeds over into arrogance with her enjoyment of being the lone wolf and her constant referencing to herself as a god.
But this is no 2D character. The Pilot is a multifaceted character with a constantly evolving emotional arc that Hill-Carlson rides the same way a champion jockey rides a prime thoroughbred. One actually feels Hill-Carlson’s disappointment with being grounded, her anger and frustration at not getting to fly a proper jet when reactivated to combat duty, her arrogant sense of superiority when hunting the enemy, her shock at seeing dead bodies for the first time, and her slowly eroding sense of identity when the ease and more personal nature of modern warfare conflict with the way things were.
Not only does Hill-Carlson masterfully play the Pilot, but she presents it beautifully as well. She’s always aware of her positioning and plays to all sides of the theatre and punctuates her monologues with just the right reactions and gestures.
Jim Othuse’s lights bolster the story as he gives us a desert sun and shades of gray as the Pilot loses her sense of emotional color and the ability to see anything as black or white. Lindsay Pape has Hill-Carlson properly attired in an Air Force jumpsuit. John Gibilisco provides always appropriate sounds especially in a small running gag of radio static always changing into AC/DC songs. Jay Hanson has also composed an original score that well supports this story’s emotional trek.
In the end, this is a tragic tale of someone who enjoyed being in the clouds in more ways than one being brought to earth in a most decisive fashion and makes for a gripping night of storytelling.
Grounded plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through October 18. Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $36 and may be purchased at www.omahaplayhouse.com or by calling the Box Office at 402-553-0800. Due to strong language, this show is not suitable for children. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.