The Pilot grins, struts and swaggers in those ways we’ve come to expect flyboys to behave. Only the flyboy in “Grounded” is a woman with the confident, knowing temperament of an Air Force fighter pilot. Alicia Hunt’s Pilot speaks in curt declarative sentences that nearly become annoying in their cocky cadence. Is there anything that can knock down that bravado just a bit? There will be. In George Brant’s lean one-woman play, what comes at The Pilot are unpredictable and mostly fascinating events that change her forever.
When we first meet The Pilot (the character is never named) she seduces us with her own love affair with combat flying – the freedom, the power, the autonomy. She has the equilibrium of having found her place in the world comfortably as one of the guys.
“Most guys don’t like what I do,” she says. “Feel they’re less of a guy around me. I take the guy spot, and they don’t know where they belong.”
Yet, while home on leave she meets a man named Eric who can deal with who and what she is.
What she thinks is a brief fling with Eric becomes much more when she finds out she’s pregnant. Eric is in it for the long haul, and he’s deeper than simply a guy with a fetish for a woman in a flight suit.
That flight suit (the only costume Hunt wears) has an even larger importance to The Pilot than to the man who becomes her husband and father of her daughter. What was an earned symbol of achievement eventually represents The Pilot’s complex attachment to her job and who she thinks she is.
Once pregnant, then as a mother, she is reassigned to a windowless trailer in the desert outside Las Vegas. Now a member of the “Chair Force,” she pilots drones chasing bad guys (“military-age males”), looking at a screen 12 hours a day, listening for orders through her headset. The work has a numbing repetitiveness until it doesn’t and then takes on a sense of urgency that absorbs her in unexpected ways.
Her job is to kill people, or not, from half a world away in a situation in which “the threat of death has been removed.”
The Pilot has become a different person. Parenthood will do that to you. Hunt’s sensitive, charged performance shows us the change while Lyndsay Burch’s nuanced direction pushes past some late sluggishness in the script. Evocative lightning and video design by Julian Elstob create an essential mood and motion for the production.
Brant’s engrossing play produces a fascinating paradox: By taking the soldier away from the battlefield, the war really does come home.
- What: George Brant’s one-woman drama about an Air Force pilot reassigned to fly drones. Alicia Hunt stars.
- When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 8 p.m. Saturdays through Aug. 8. Call the theater for selected matinee days and times.
- Where: B Street Theatre B3 Stage, 2711 B St., Sacramento
- Cost: $23-$35, $5 student rush
- Information: 916-443-5300, bstreettheatre.org
- Time: 80 minutes with no intermission