Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Grounded ***

Before I discuss the play, let me warn you that the entire run of this solo play starring Public Theater board member Anne Hathaway is practically sold out, even at the extravagant prices her star power has enabled the Public to charge. It’s a win-win situation — extra income for the Public and a chance for Hathaway to display her acting chops. In this timely play by George Brant (seen in New York last year in a downtown production with a different actress and director), she plays The Pilot, first seen as an F-16 pilot in Iraq who loves her job, especially the freedom of being alone in “the blue.” While home on leave, she meets a man who is not intimidated by her job and falls in love. After she gets pregnant, they marry and she tries unsuccessfully to adjust to the life of housewife and mother. She returns to the Air Force, but instead of being reunited with her fighter jet, she is reassigned to the “Chair Force,” serving 12-hour shifts controlling a drone halfway around the world from a chair in an air-conditioned trailer at a base near Las Vegas. At first she likes the new job with its godlike sense of power and its allowing her to return home to her husband and child every night. Gradually her attitude changes. While the carnage she caused with her F-16 never bothered her because she would be miles away before the bombs hit, her drone lingers over the target afterwards and she is forced to see the flying body parts on her screen. She also becomes increasingly aware of the ubiquitous surveillance cameras in today’s America. Hathaway gives a controlled, convincing performance that traces a path from elation to despair. The set by Riccardo Hernandez is covered with rippled sand and there’s a pyramid in one corner. We are not in the Middle East though. This is Nevada sand and the pyramid is the Luxor in Las Vegas. The production is greatly enhanced by excellent projections by Peter Nigrini. Director Julie Taymor mostly resists stamping the play with her trademark tricks, although there is a bit that begins and ends the play that seemed pointlessly distracting. The play does not achieve greatness, but it presents a thoughtful look at aspects of our society that merit our attention. Running time: one hour 15 minutes, no intermission.

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