By George Brant
Directed by Eleanor Crowder
Starring Alexis Scott
January 18-27, 2018 (preview Jan. 17)
Tuesday-Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30 p.m.
She’s got it all. Beauty. Brains. A body as finely honed as a Sidewinder missile. That’s her job, and her passion. Fighter pilot. Ace.
So what happens when she’s a big success at motherhood, too? Iran. Iraq. Afghanistan. This is how it is when our feminism is really on the line.
Eleanor Crowder directs. Alexis Scott stars in this searing play, a recent off-Broadway hit for Anne Hathaway.
“Grounded is a heartbreaking, beautiful, necessary and perfectly-structured solo drama… an essential story for our times.” —The Scotsman
See the Ottawa premiere.
Content not suitable for younger children (think “PG13”).
Adult: $36 + $3 facility fee = $39
Senior (65+): $32 + $3 facility fee = $35
Student/Artist*/Unwaged/Preview: $20 + $3 facility fee = $23
*including Theatre Ontario members
HEAR ALEXIS SCOTT AND ELEANOR CROWDER ON
CKCU’S FRIDAY SPECIAL BLEND (1:06:06 – 12:28:39).
Reviewed by Jennifer Cavanagh for Apt613
This short one-woman play by George Brant explores the devastating impact of detached modern warfare on an air force combat pilot who is grounded to become part of the “chair-force” guiding unmanned drones from a windowless trailer in the Nevada desert.
Directed by Eleanor Crowder, there is little on the starkly set stage—a chair and a large suspended sheet—requiring Alexis M Scott as the unnamed pilot solo lead to deliver a powerhouse and energetic physical performance.
Scott dominates the opening scene with animated spirited energy as she unveils the freedom and camaraderie of the air force. Her plane “tiger”, her gear, her missions, her accomplishments; all this defines her. The sense of self achievement and her embrace of macho bravery as she soars through “the blue” or decompresses with male colleagues in a bar is intense. She is a self-satisfied, cocky woman happy in her world and proud of the job that defines her.
Alexis Scott stars as an air force pilot in Grounded. Photo by andrew alexander photography.
After meeting Eric, a supportive and accommodating partner, who sees her as “the rock star that I am,” there follows an unexpected pregnancy that leads “the blue” that once defined her so precisely to be replaced. In its place is “the grey,” visual feedback of an unmanned drone pointed directly downwards toward a faraway land. Relegated to flying drones, her cockpit becomes an airless trailer. Here, the solo top gun is part of a team that decides the fate of those far below, though it is her own white-knuckle hand that controls the trigger once judgment is made. The threat of imminent violent reprisal is gone but where she once fled an airstrike she now lingers over the combat zone, surveying the horrible writhing outcome of these strikes.
The immersive long-term battles of old that removed her from family duties are gone, as is the camaraderie that accompanied real-life conflict. Now, she alone must flip a switch between war and domesticity on a 12-hour basis. Initially an attempt to view modern warfare as a gift allowing greater family time gives over to the incongruent juxtaposition of 12 hours of classified violence followed by domestic routine.
Scott paces the stage first ecstatically, even arrogantly, and then as her situation shifts she moves warily with a haunted trepidation. In a resonant scene, on a week’s leave she takes her daughter to the mall where the ubiquitous surveillance cameras overwhelm her as post-traumatic stress engulfs her. The stage lighting glows red and her fixed stare is spot lit as the threatening torment builds and the price of detached warfare is revealed.
Scott is masterful and fills the stage with bravado and tension. Her pacing and eyes easily shift the tenor from swagger and fierce pride to fragility as she too becomes an unhinged casualty of war. This brief theatre touches on much in its 75 minutes from gender roles, modern warfare, motherhood, advocacy, secrecy and self-awareness as it asks us to explore an enemy very close to home.
Buckle up for a white-knuckle G-force ride
By Allyson Domanski, for Ottawa Tonite and NewswestI
She may be grounded but chastised? No way. Her swagger’s so intact she sneers that it’s a waddle.
Newly returned from furlough in Wyoming where she and the boys had hit the bar for beers and now back at her job in The Blue dropping bombs over Iraq and Afghanistan, the bad-ass fighter pilot cusses that it’s not the cheeseburgers widening her. Weeks after that roll in the sack with Eric (understating her use of the ‘f’ bomb), the guy who sashayed up to her at the bar because he found the flight suit on her sexy, she hurls on the tarmac. She does a test. It’s pink. Pink! (She’s not exactly a pink, hair-thrower kind of girl.) Skyping Eric, who minds the family hardware store in Wyoming, she hides her burgeoning belly behind the desk. He doesn’t know. She tells him. Then tears. He cries.
“Grounded,” she bemoans, “a pilot’s nightmare.” Maybe so. But Grounded, at The Gladstone Theatre until January 27th , is an audience’s dream.
You can forgive it for being a story about America’s military killing might for Scott’s enthralling enactment alone.
She accepts. They’re three. Love sneaks in. Sam – Samantha, her baby girl – keeps her from The Blue for a while. The Pilot was born for that, The Blue. But also for this: Motherhood. Love Sam as she does, she badly wants The Blue back.
Instead, she gets grounded to the desert of Nevada. The Chair Force.
“No one ever comes back from the Chair Force,” protests The Pilot, “it’s the Bermuda Triangle!” Doomed to direct drones from The Grey in a trailer a continent away from her targets, Eric says it’s a gift. “Drones are a gift?!” she gasps.
But she gets it. She’ll get to see her daughter grow up. She’ll get to kiss her husband each night.
The Pilot, stripes earned and role owned by Alexis M. Scott commanding a demanding part, flies solo. Set and costuming are sparse; any more would only distract from the mesmeric performance. Wearing only black boots and a khaki flight suit, Scott talks the talk and struts the swagger like nobody’s business. She pulls off power and ego like only the confidently competent can. Must come from being a graduate of the Ottawa Theatre School and a 2015 Prix Rideau Award nominee for her work as an emerging artist.
Scott white-knuckles the audience into a G-force ride that drains us with her descent.
But it’s when the cracks appear and The Pilot nosedives into free-fall that Scott proves that she’s a major talent, the latest firepower, “The Top Shit” in the vernacular of her flight instructor.
Scott white-knuckles the audience into a G-force ride that drains us with her descent. Her timing is impeccable, her delivery throughout the intense 75-minute, intermissionless show a marvel to witness as it devolves from full sentences containing first-person pronouns to a pronounless staccato when The Pilot loses her grip on the stick.
You can forgive it for being a story about America’s military killing might for Scott’s enthralling enactment alone. Bear & Co. produces this one-woman show by George Brant, a 2015 Off-Broadway hit that starred Anne Hathaway as The Pilot. Director Eleanor Crowder deftly manages to deliver peak power from her artists and Scott is no exception. Sound design by Daniel Claxton and cello effects by Raphael Weinroth-Browne fuse AC/DC into effective ‘decompression’ pieces.
Did anything not reach the sky in the preview performance of Grounded caught by this reviewer? A bluer ‘Blue” would’ve put us more in her headspace. And as that headspace clouded over, I saw our pilot as more the type to take the edge off by sucking back a Corona than sipping from a water bottle.
Grounded’s run at The Gladstone is limited, its impact anything but. Book a seat now.
Allyson Domanski writes about travel, the arts and reviews theatre for Ottawa Tonite as well as for Newswest. She is currently completing a major work of creative non-fiction to be published in 2017. An avid traveller and not-quite year-round cyclist, she and her husband spent two and a half years bicycling around the world before she joined the territorial then the federal public service. The hockey and lacrosse mom, owner of a Husky and une cabane au Quebec hails from Winnipeg and has lived from India to Iqaluit but she and her family call Hintonburg home.
by Allyson Domanski, for Ottawa Tonite
Bear’s production of playwright George Brant’s Grounded is just the latest in a string of Ottawa premieres by the company. This award-winning one-woman show became an Off-Broadway hit starring A-lister Anne Hathaway as an elite air force fighter pilot whose proficiency at dropping bombs over Afghanistan and Iraq gets grounded once she becomes pregnant, only to be reassigned to Nevada’s ‘chair force’ to operate drones continents away from her targets.
A trio of equally formidable women is behind Bear & Co.’s production of Grounded.
Alexis M. Scott dons the flight suit to white-knuckle the audience through the emotional power trip of feminism going head to head with female biology. Director/actor/producer Eleanor Crowder is one-half of Bear & Co., while actor/music director/award-winning writer Rachel Eugster is the other half of its genius.
After seeing Grounded in New York, Crowder was so taken by its powerful script that she had to produce it. Crowder, who directs Scott in a role whose hard edges turn anything but mushy, had this to say: “A solo show is a marathon, a triumphant display of talent and sweat. This text is exactly that. A sweep of action and insight that asks the performer to pour every ounce of strength into her work. Alexis is the actor for this role. She is utterly compelling.”
Scott, a 2015 Prix Rideau Award nominee for her work as an emerging artist and a graduate of the Ottawa Theatre School, currently works out of Toronto. She has acted in past Bear productions, including Shakespeare’s Macbeth, The Tempest, and The Comedy of Errors.
A small company that punches way more than its own weight, Bear chooses works that intrigue and please audiences while delivering peak power from its artists.
Bear performs indoors and out, with casts large and small, offering works from the Elizabethan era to the present day. Eugster says they typically put on three shows per year, starting with “something really daring” (like Grounded), followed by summer Shakespeare in the Park (Romeo and Juliet, 2017; Macbeth, 2016), followed by a fall musical revue (No Way To Say Goodbye: Songs of Leonard Cohen in 2017; and Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris in 2016).
A small company that punches way more than its own weight, Bear chooses works that intrigue and please audiences while delivering peak power from its artists.
Confined to the surly bonds of earth, The Pilot flies into trauma and turmoil in Grounded
By Matt Yuyitung, for Artsfile
What happens to you when the job you love is taken away and you are forced to confront a new life that challenges your mental state?
That is what happens in the play Grounded written by the American George Brant and staged by Ottawa’s Bear and Co. at the Gladstone. The one-woman show features Alexis Scott as The Pilot.
The play tells the story of a female fighter pilot who is prevented from flying by a pregnancy. She is grounded. Then she is reassigned to a desk job where she pilots drones. In this new post she is forced to reconcile the tensions between her military duties and her family life. Her new role takes a large toll on her mental state and puts a heavy strain on her professional and personal life.
“It’s an amazingly powerful show,” says the play’s director Eleanor Crowder. “It’s an incredibly hard-hitting and sweet show at the same time in that it brings you inside the fighter pilot to the extent that you utterly empathize with her.”
The play explores themes such as drone warfare, trauma and constant surveillance. It uses paints a picture of modern warfare, one where fighters are thousands of miles away from war zones.
To prepare, Scott learned about the experiences of other drone pilots, particularly those who have been traumatized by using weaponized drones.
“Not every drone pilot gets PTSD, but there are many that have, and just watching that hit me really hard,” she said.
In the play The Pilot experiences significant mental trauma as a drone operator.
“She’s deeply traumatized by what happens, and we see that happen,” Crowder said. “We see the military persona, the front she keeps, and it lasts a long time . . . She doesn’t crack for a really long time.”
The play also focuses heavily on the humanity of those wrapped up in conflict, and this is a large factor behind The Pilot’s mental deterioration.
“(The Pilot) starts to see (the enemy) as human, as exactly the same kind of humans operating under the same set of stresses,” Crowder said.
Another important theme for Crowder and Scott was the treatment of soldiers affected by trauma.
“One thing we can do in Canada is stop treating soldiers like machines,” Crowder said. “The more everybody knows the effects of that kind of work on people, the more impetus there is to dismantle that way of working.”
Crowder noted there’s a significant number of people entering the military who enter the military “without many options.”
“We don’t treat people without many options in an honourable way at all,” she said. “Not in Canada, not in the States.”
Crowder also emphasized the theme of “the eye in the sky,” and the notion that modern military technology is capable of tracking anyone in the world at any time.
“Yes we’re here and safe, but our safety depends on that kind of surveillance, and how do we feel about that?” she said.
In the end, Crowder and Scott say the play will always hold some kind of relevance as long as there’s instability in the world, highlighting events such as the ongoing protests in Iran, the Arab Spring, and the Israel-Palestine conflict as recent examples.
For Scott, working with Bear and Co. was her first job out of theatre school. Her first role was Adriana in Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors. She was also Crowder’s primary choice for the main role in Grounded.
“I saw a match between Alexis and the script, and thought she’d be brilliant at it,” Crowder said, a sentiment Scott echoed.
“I read it and I had this visceral reaction to the play and I was like ‘I have to do this,’” she said.
Bear and Co. was founded in 2012 by five partners. The company’s first production was John Ford’s Tis Pity She’s a Whore. Bear and Co. stages a mix of classics, Shakespeare, contemporary theatre, and musicals.
According to company member Rachel Eugster, the company’s guiding principle is “compelling theatre, close to home.”
“I think we feel that if we find it compelling and meaningful, then our audience will as well,” she said. “We like the breadth of that guiding principle because it allows us to do theatre that interests us.”
“So if we choose something that we find has meaning, speaks to us, and speaks to our audience, then that’s a worthy project for Bear,” she said.
The Pilot is at The Gladstone until Jan. 27. Tickets and information: thegladstone.ca
This story was produced in collaboration with Centretown News and Carleton University.
An interview with Eleanor and Alexis:
Eleanor: I saw it performed at the Public Theatre in New York City. Anne Hathaway was magnificent in the role. And the script simply grabbed me and twisted.
Here is our feminism run head to head with our biology. Is The Pilot trapped by being a mother? She asks, are drones punishment for getting pregnant? Is the turn of the plot the inevitable outcome of the conditions of war? Would a man act differently?
George Brant drops us smack into the target zone for today’s warfare, and makes a distant war very personal.
Alexis: I had a visceral reaction to the play. I was grateful and honored to be asked to play The Pilot. The play gives the actress a chance to go full throttle, which was a big draw.
Brant’s script is gorgeously crafted and brings us right into the world of The Pilot. There’s a specificity and a realness, but also a lyricism that takes the audience on a ride.Q: Why should people see the show?
Eleanor: If you pay taxes, you finance wars. The Canadian military is not yet using armed drones—Navy and Army use surveillance drones, but the RCAF does not have Reapers. But we are in allegiance with U.S. forces who do use them. This play zooms us in on the bunkers, on the choices, on the costs of that mission.Q: Does theatre matter to politics, or politics to theatre?
Alexis: As I started doing research for this play, I kept getting struck by the impact war has on humans and human connection. The audience is witness to all the nitty gritty details of the character’s life. We see The Pilot transform before our eyes.
Brant has pitched all the tenderness of love and motherhood against the tension and aggression of war. (Go listen to former drone pilots on Youtube for a sense of the human cost.)
Eleanor: Theatre is the way I explore information and opinion. All our information comes in a voice, no matter how objective it purports to be. A show that places an identifiable voice front and centre offers a way to think about an issue. I hope this show provokes many discussions for the audience. Is this the world we live in? If it is, what does the eye in the sky mean for us?Q: What elements of the character, or of the playwright’s voice, resonate most with you?
Eleanor: Here is a tough woman. An admirable woman, winning at a man’s game. The Pilot talks like us. And here are conditions of work that are unimaginable, until Brant takes you there.
This is the voice of a woman who would be my friend. I trust her experience.
Alexis: The Pilot is really good at what she does. She is a fighter pilot because she can’t not be a fighter pilot. I relate to the feminist side of the story as she tries to navigate all of the aspects of her job and motherhood. In the male-dominated American military, she doesn’t need anyone’s help until she does need help. She keeps saying she’s fine even when she’s not fine. I can relate to that need to put on armour and be stronger than you really are.Q: What have been the biggest challenges, and what have been the biggest joys, in mounting this production?
Eleanor: A solo show is a marathon: a triumphant display of talent and sweat.
This text is exactly that. A sweep of action and insight that asks the performer to pour every ounce of strength into her work. Alexis is the actor for this role: She is utterly compelling.