DO NOT MISS one of the best actresses in this or ANY town in a bravura one woman show: GROUNDED about a female fighter pilot navigating charted and uncharted territory. It FLOORED me. Every pun intended. Presented by THE NORA THEATRE COMPANY at Cambridge’s Central Square Theater, GROUNDED stars CELESTE OLIVA who steers us through a physical, emotional, psychological and ultimately spiritual journey without ever leaving her seat; I’m sure I left mine.
The play by George Brant and directed by artistic director Lee Mikeska Gardner locates “The Pilot” in the middle of the theater, encircled by an overhead bank of video screens and the audience beyond. We watch her in the spotlight as she flies through the blue and over enemy territory, zeroing in on terrorists below, dropping her payload, jubilantly striking her target. She zooms off to fly another day– until she’s grounded by a surprise pregnancy, marriage, and a re-assignment: she will fly again, but this time it will be an empty drone from a remote base not far from home. She’s a working mom all right–targeting terrorists by day, and having dinner with the family, tucking her child in at night. That’s when things get personal. Slowly, the pilot loses her compass, the impact of her day job rocks her inner world, blurring the line between her life and the lives of those dots who turn into people on her screen.
Oliva is masterful here- a cocky flygirl, sexy, intensely focused. She channels the danger, the tension, the guilt directly to us, and later the painful confusion as she tries to reconcile her split life and the dismembered bodies she scatters half a world away. It’s a risky, edge of your seat performance. Somehow, the irony of our increasingly antiseptic killing by unmanned drones drives the horror closer to home; we are forced to confront our own numbness and it’s appalling.
On my way home from the show, I happened to hear a report on NPR from the middle east; an elderly man was interviewed and talked about hearing the low constant hum of drones in the background of his village, and how a caravan of cars in a wedding party, traveling between the bride and groom’s homes, was mistakenly targeted by a drone. Four dead. GROUNDED. Life imitating art imitating life. Theater shines a light on what we must surely know– but don’t.
DO NOT MISS GROUNDED NOW EXTENDED through March 22 at Central Square Theater!