Two years ago, Alley Theatre Company member Elizabeth Bunch read an article about playwright George Brant's new work Grounded and immediately ordered the script. So she was beyond happy when the Alley decided to include the play in its 2015-2016 season.
Bunch will be alone onstage for 75 minutes portraying an elite U.S. Air Force fighter pilot who has been moved to drone duty at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada after becoming pregnant. Instead of flying the skies, she’s computer desk-bound in 12-hour shifts inside a trailer each day.
Some people consider that playing video games, but as the pilot discovers, it is far more emotionally draining than that.
Instead of dropping a bomb on people and scooting away, her drone’s cameras enable her to face in great detail the damage she’s done. And then she goes home to her family in suburban Las Vegas and tries to be normal.
"You are closer to the target. Even though you're physically in another country, you can see them better," Bunch says. "And the way the drones work, you conduct what they call 'Personality Strikes,' which means you're doing surveillance. You're seeing when they get up, you're seeing when they leave, what kind of car they drive. Or maybe you’re watching the house. So maybe you’re watching the wife put the laundry out, his kids playing in the yard; maybe you’re seeing them go to the market. So you're not getting a coordinate and locking your target on and hitting it perfectly. You’re getting to know their daily lives. You start to identify with them.
"You see the hot bodies become cool bodies. You see body parts. You see pools of blood; you see people come in and try to help the injured people. You are finally a witness to what you are destroying."
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Still, Bunch says, the role is not a polemic against war but an examination of issues on a very grand (military warfare) and intimate (the individual pilot) scale.
“The entree for this piece is the emotional life of it. Who are you? It's a woman in the military. It's a mother in the military. It's about work-life balance. It's about the surrounding warfare and what kind of warfare is acceptable; the morality about how you treat a pilot and someone who is dealing with beyond high-pressure situations.”
“At the same time, you think about the lives that have been saved because we're able to stop people before another 911 with the information they're able to gather. In a world of technology, it would seem foolish not to use what's in your disposal."
Performances of Grounded are scheduled for March 25 through April 17 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas. For information, call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $43-$75.