For their inaugural production, theatreSix presents George Brant’s Grounded, a one-woman show in which The Pilot tells us her story—from adventures in the sky to motherhood and war trauma. It’s an emotional roller coaster that lifts you high, then pulls you back to earth with thrilling force.
As the brassy, unnamed Pilot, Carly Street drew me in immediately and her firm hold never loosened. Her boisterous, backtracking rhythm is thoroughly compelling and feels like such an essential part of the character that I wonder, not being familiar with Brant’s play, if it’s been written into the text itself. Regardless, be it exceptional delivery of a tricky text or a performance choice: it grabs your attention and keeps you locked within her buzzing headspace.
Even when she briefly lost her place and called out for a line, Street’s grip on the audience is so tight, it barely registered.
After falling in love: pregnancy, marriage and family life put a sudden hold on her career in the sky, though she throws herself into motherhood with the same guileless enthusiasm. When she goes back to work, it isn’t in a cockpit, but a comfy chair in an air-conditioned trailer just outside of Las Vegas. From there, she remote-controls a high-tech drone in the Middle East.
She’s bored at first, endlessly watching and waiting, but starts to enjoy her power as an eye in the sky. As action picks up, she discovers a sense of honour and purpose in taking out the guilty that she sees on her little screen.
Gradually though, that video game unreality glitches out and she is forced to confront the very human destruction she wreaks at the click of a button. Her jingoistic swagger collapses as the twelve-hour work days begin to wear her down. It is here, as she sees the humanity in her distant targets, that Brant’s play really digs deep.
This is an insightful portrait of a woman’s simultaneous psychological descent and spiritual awakening, but it is also a beautiful study of a strong marriage. As her ordeal takes its toll on her husband and their small daughter, he responds with empathy—and she, not totally lost, sees and demonstrably appreciates his allegiance.
Particularly intriguing to me was a segment where she conveys her eerie awareness of the increasingly intrusive surveillance of the modern world and our vast interconnection—culminating in a truly haunting and poignant moment in a mall change-room.
Director Kerry Ann Doherty’s staging is compact yet dynamic, allowing us to focus intensely on Street as she embraces the undulating pattern of Brant’s script—the soaring, joyous heights and the devastating lows. Set designer Melanie McNeill surrounds the playing area with strips of sand, suggesting both an airstrip and a lonely desert road. Towards the end, the gritty tangibility of these mounds of real sand pays off nicely.