Friday, May 9, 2014

Grounded, Cleveland Play House, New Ground Theater Festival

Drones appear to be the new omnipresent weapon in our world. So it probably won’t be long before the NRA demands that everyone be able to fly as many weaponized drones around their neighborhood as they want. I mean, if we don’t  the terrorists win, right?

The weird, detached nature of drone warfare is front and center in this play, written with compacted intensity by George Brant. In it, a former unnamed fly-girl played by the hypnotic Hannah Cabell, starts off as a cocky female fighter jet jockey, dropping bombs and flying away from the carnage,

But when she gets married after meeting Eric who is attracted to her macho vibe, and she then gets pregnant, she is pulled out of her cockpit and sat down in front of a computer screen outside of Las Vegas. There, she uses a joystick to maneuver warrior drones in another desert half a world away, lighting up various victims (“military age males”) who the experts in her headset tell her are the enemy.

Her new job, a mixture of 95% boredom and 5% excitement starts talking its toll when the drone cameras start showing her the human cost of her button pushing. And eventually, she starts feeling emotions that weren’t there before, endangering her career, if not her sanity. When she goes shopping at the mall, she feels like a potential victim as she notices the “eye in the sky” security cameras watching her and her daughter.

The 70-minute performance by Cabell is remarkable as she stands virtually without moving for over an hour, speaking in a military-approved tough guy monotone. Yet as directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, she still manages to convey a range of emotions as she pumps out Brant’s short, karate chop bursts of dialogue studded with powerful imagery: As she explains about Eric’s love for her, “He tells me he can feel the sky in me.”

This powerful production already had a run in New York City, and further versions are in the works in other cities. Affecting as it is, one wishes that Brant had employed his skill with words to muse more directly on the questionable morality of this incredible new technology that allows antiseptic, long-distance annihilation of other human beings.

For that, we may have to wait for the next HBO series, perhaps titled “Game of Drones.” For now, Grounded is a heady, distilled bit of psychological torment wrapped in up-to-the-minute military might. And it definitely must be seen.

Through May 17, produced by Page 73 Productions at the Cleveland Play House, part of the New Ground Theatre Festival, 216-241-6000.

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