‘Grounded,’ a one-woman show about a military pilot, soars

We’ve heard a lot about drone warfare in the past few years, from the constitutionality of such attacks to the level of secrecy associated with the programs. One thing that rarely gets discussed, though, is the effect that waging war from thousands of miles away has on the pilots and operators of those drones.

Contributed by Chris Conard

This is the subject of George Brant’s play “Grounded,” now in a new production from Street Corner Arts at Hyde Park Theater. The one-woman show features an unnamed pilot telling the story of her career as she went from hotshot jet fighter pilot to drone operator thanks to an unplanned — but not unwanted — pregnancy. She tells the audience about both her satisfactions and frustrations with the job, while showing the ways in which it wears upon her psyche and influences her home life.

As “The Pilot” in Street Corner Arts’ production, Sarah Danko is transcendent. She strikes the perfect balance, vocalizing the pilot’s story while simultaneously physicalizing and emoting the riotous turmoil going on just beneath the surface. At turns arrogant, sexy, vulnerable, angry, disturbed and loving, Danko’s portrayal is all the more impressive for the fact that her entire journey takes place in front of the audiences’ eyes with no intermission.

Thanks to director Benjamin Summers, lighting designer Chris Conard and video/sound designer Lowell Bartholomee, Danko is never quite alone on stage. Though told in the present tense, the story clearly evolves from her memory as she evokes moods, images, light and sound that help tell her story and express her emotional depths. The use of such elements avoids overkill, allowing Danko to remain the heart of the production without getting overwhelmed by external trappings.

The production serves Brant’s text marvelously well. The extended monologue is densely packed with symbols and metaphors but expressed through immediate, visceral, every-day language. Simultaneously poetic and conversational, the equal emphasis on story and imagery is borne out wonderfully by Danko, Summers and the entire production crew.

“Grounded” is a funny, moving, disturbing piece of theater that is all the more powerful for its unique look at an important contemporary issue and its stunning, heartbreaking one-woman performance.

“Grounded”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday-Saturday through April 21, with additional performance 8 p.m. April 16
Where: Hyde Park Theatre, 511 W. 43rd St.
Cost: $15-$22
Information: streetcornerarts.org