A figure stands center stage, dressed in a flight suit. Sand falls through a beam of light and slides off the dome of the pilot’s helmet. The sand ceases, the helmet is removed, sand pours out of her goggles, she turns and I am staring into the eyes of Anne Hathaway.
Our summer reading was Homer’s, The Odyssey. A few weeks into our study of the epic, Lenke Wood came to our 10-student class bubbling with enthusiasm about a play she saw at nearby Gamm Theatre, George Brant’s one-woman show Grounded, which references Homer’s epic. Soon we were reading the Grounded script, about a female drone pilot’s experience in the Iraqi conflict. And in December, Lenke took us to see a production of the work at the Central Square Theater in Cambridge.
Filled with profanity, adult themes and violence, Grounded is the perfect compliment to the Moses Brown curriculum! Brant’s attention to detail and respect for his unnamed heroine, makes the play a lesson in the power of sparse language and the pilot a role model for our generation.
I am a pacifist, yet I see myself in a character that proclaims, “I have missiles to launch… The structures that break up the sand/ I break them back down … Boom goes Saddam’s… army and then I’m home on leave/ Wyoming”. The pilot is tough but not masculine. She is a mother but she is nobody’s mommy. She is an elite air force pilot and she is a woman. In a Moses Brown/Rhode Island small world manner, Lenke got in contact with the playwright and weeks later we were Skyping with George himself! Interestingly, while he was relatively vague in his explanations of certain motifs and intentions, he was explicit in stating that the pilot is not supposed to be a symbol of all women but rather an example of the remarkable complexities in every person and our capacity to be more than one label.
In April, I traveled to New York City to see Anne Hathaway in a production of Grounded at the Public Theater. Stripped of all her celebrity, Anne (may I call her that?) stood intimately before a small audience and gave a truly poignant performance. However, an unexpected change to ending seemed to, in my opinion, steer the entire play off course towards a political criticism of drone policy rather than an unresolved query about the affects of new technology on the mental well-being of our military service men and women.
With the line: “It would have been a different book/ The Odyssey/ If Odysseus came home every day/ Every single day/ A very different book”, I leave you to consider if new is always “better”…