Review: ‘Grounded’ with her heart in the sky

Kittson O'Neill in InterAct Theatre Company's production of 'Grounded.' (Photo courtesy of Kate Raines/Plate3 Photography)

Kittson O'Neill in InterAct Theatre Company's production of 'Grounded.' (Photo courtesy of Kate Raines/Plate3 Photography)

In “Grounded,” a fighter pilot soars. And Kittson O’Neill, the actress playing that character, soars as well in a dynamic performance at InterAct Theatre Company’s production of the one-woman show. O’Neill is gripping when her character kills enemies from thousands of feet above. She’s frightening when she becomes a drone pilot and kills them from thousands of miles away. 

George Brant’s play, with Anne Hathaway in the role last year at the Public Theatre, is carefully written storytelling. At InterAct Theatre, it has two impressive storytellers — O’Neill onstage and director Kathryn MacMillan offstage. 

MacMillan flies “Grounded” as if the play itself is aloft. She moves the tall, commanding O’Neill vigorously around a stage backed by Nick Embree’s half-dome structure. And when the character is killing people from her cockpit or, even more horrifying, from her office desk, O’Neill is eerily stationary.

“I want the sky! I want the blue!” the character, called The Pilot, declares as she flies over an unnamed territory that is probably in the Middle East. She’s risen to the top of what is clearly a man’s game. She intends to stay there. And then she becomes pregnant.

It’s tough for this self-assured fighter pilot whose home is the sky to be the mom of an infant girl, but she assumes the role with determination. When it’s time to go back to work, her commanding officer hits her with a thunderbolt: For her, there will be no fighter plane. There will be a desk at a place in the desert outside of Las Vegas, a place where war is conducted much like a video game — on a computer screen and on the ground. She is, for all purposes, grounded.

At first, she hates it. She labels it the “Chair Force.” We watch her as she tracks her prey while staring into boredom at a screen all day long, playing God she finds the enemy to hover over across the world. At times, Brant’s play is slow in moving forward, much like the work The Pilot now does at her desk. But then it blasts off, and reveals a fighter pilot with an even more ferocious appetite for killing while she sits safely, grounded in an office.

The digital ways of war, Brant shows us, are as stunningly destructive as the traditional ones. And when video games become real acts of killing, when do the virtual and the real collide in the minds of the killers?

“Grounded,” produced by InterAct Theatre Company, runs through Oct. 23 at the Proscenium Theatre at the Drake, on Spruce Street between 15th and 16th Streets. 215-268-8077 or www.interacttheatre.org.

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