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A CurtainUp Review
By David A. Rosenberg

The eye in the sky, that's me,
That's me now. I fly a plane
And stare at a screen that
Stares at the ground.

— The Pilot
Anne Hathaway (Photo: Joan Marucs)
In the frightening new world of technology, none may be more terrifying than drones, those unmanned aerial vehicles that can take out whomever is considered an enemy. In Grounded, the intense, solo play by George Brant, Anne Hathaway is an unnamed, tough fighter pilot re-assigned to the "chair force" when she marries and becomes pregnant. Now, instead of flying in the blue, this woman of "sweat, brains and guts" is confined to staring at a grey screen 12 hours a day in search of targets.

The play uses repetition and monotony to pinpoint the Pilot's routine: get up, say goodbye to husband and daughter, drive to the base, sit in a lounge chair, search for perceived enemies, launch kill strikes, then drive home, maybe have sex with hubby, sleep. In outline, it's a basic routine in most people's lives, with a ruinous exception: the Pilot's monitoring whom to kill eventually gets to her.

Unlike the fighter flier she was, someone who hit the target then was "long gone before the boom happens," launching drones from a remote location means having to watch the results: the scattered body parts, the flesh that "slowly turns the same grey as the sand." It's no accident that the crates storing drone parts are called caskets.

As much as she may, at first, dislike being confined to a chair instead of flying her own plane, the Pilot realizes that "the threat of death has been removed" and she can spend time with her family. It's when the drone god becomes the god of guilt, then a god mightier than the human target that trouble begins. Soon, other threats intrude, as she succumbs to the idea that surveillance is everywhere: in a Las Vegas hotel where her husband is a blackjack dealer, in a mall where she and their daughter go to shop.

Director Julie Taymor, who knows her way around effects, surrounds the work with Elliot Goldenthal's evocative original music and soundscapes, Peter Nigrini's projections, Christopher Akerlind's lighting, Will Pickens' sound design and Richard Martinez's electronic music design. Riccardo Hernandez's floor of raked sand, backed by a black mirror that reflects the Pilot's divided self, also sweeps us into a world that switches from the colors of life to the drabness of death. The evening is as much a sensory experience as it is a literary one.

For all the physical aspects, however, Taymor boils it all down to a piece about a single, solitary human being whose certainties slowly erode. Hathaway, affecting a Wyoming accent and with her hair pulled back, strides about the stage, her macho movements gaining in irritability, conveying both the exterior roughness and confidence of a fighter pilot and the interior horror at what she's doing. Fierce, confused, angry, loving, exultant — Hathaway is as multi-colored as the Las Vegas neon that patterns the floor.

What's unsaid in Grounded is as potent as what is. Drones are in the near future, flying everywhere, delivering packages, perhaps, but also spying, and potentially destroying. They're "eyes in the sky" and we are "not safe," a question to be discussed and debated at a special forum, "Our Drone War," at the Public, May 19 at 7pm.

Grounded by George Brant
Directed by Julie Taymor
Cast: Anne Hathaway
Original Music and Soundscapes: Elliot Goldenthal
Scenic Design: Riccardo Hernandez
Lighting Design: Christopher Akerlind
Sound Design: Will Pickens
Projection Design: Peter Nigrini
Electronic Music Design: Richard Martinez
Production Stage Manager: Evangeline Rose Whitlock
Running time: 75 minutes, no intermission
Public Theater, N.Y., April 7-May 24
Reviewed April 26, 2015
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