The one-woman play, Grounded, by George Brant, explores the destructive power of modern warfare through the eyes of a female combat pilot. After an unexpected pregnancy, she's reassigned to a windowless trailer in the Nevada desert as the desk pilot of a military drone.
The Unicorn Theatre's production marks the third in a series of "rolling world premieres" presented by members of the National New Play Network, dedicated to the development of new work.
In this scene from Grounded, the unnamed pilot (played by Carla Noack) describes the exhilaration she feels when she's flying: "It's the respect. It's the danger. It's more. It's you are 'in the blue.' You are alone in the vastness."
Interview Highlights: Director Cynthia Levin and Actor Carla Noack
Flight ‘in the blue’
Producing Artistic Director Cynthia Levin, in her 35th season with the Unicorn, is directing Grounded. Levin says the first scene reveals a great deal about the character, identified as the Pilot, in her natural element.
"We experience the dynamics of the Pilot in flight in 'the blue.' Her suit, her plane and her missions are all a part of her status and glory," says Levin. "This scene shows us the joy and importance of being top gun in the Air Force before being reassigned to a trailer flying drones."
The threat of death is removed
Actor Carla Noack, also an assistant professor of acting at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, says the young fighter pilot has conflicting emotions as she struggles in her new role as both mother and drone warrior.
"One of the themes in the play is that 'the threat of death has been removed.' The pilot no longer is in the 'combat zone,'" says Noack. "She gets to go home to her family, have supper, kiss her daughter's forehead, sleep with her husband. This causes a disconnect from the reality of war. The pilot is being asked to flip the switch from war combat to domestic hearth every day. Every day."
A ’Top Gun’ confined
According to Air Force regulations, pilots, when pregnant, have to take a break from flying. Levin compares the Pilot to a bird with clipped wings when she's tied to a desk job.
"Her love of solo flying is about speed and beauty," says Levin. "Flying up in the 'blue' is a unique experience and pilots are thought of as top guns, gods of the military, a very high status. So, to be taken out of the sky and put in a trailer piloting a plane thousands of miles away has its disappointments.
"You are not looking up at the sky but the camera eye is staring down at the ground. Instead of being immersed in the duties of wartime, you sit in a chair for 12 hours watching a war and then go home each night."
Between two worlds
Both Noack and Levin say the challenges faced by the Pilot are ones audiences will be able to relate to - balancing work and family, and trying to carve out distinctions between the two.
"She wants to be the best mom, always there for special time," says Noack about her role. "(She) wants to be the good wife to her good husband. Yet she must flip constantly, daily, between these two worlds. Every day. Which life is reality? Can she be both of these things while excluding them each from each. This, I think, creates a tremendous toll on one's psychological health."
Levin adds, "I don’t think the ethics of what you are doing and who you are doing it to is inherently due to gender. Gee, I would love to say, 'Women look at things more fairly and are more sensitive and are not concerned with power and position,' but it’s not necessarily true."
The Unicorn Theatre presents ‘Grounded,’ through February 9, 2013, 3828 Main Street, Kansas City, Missouri. 816-531-7529.