“Blow blow me out I’m so sad I don’t know why. Blow blow me out I’m so sad I don’t know why…”
Walking out from Cellar Theatre after this eighty minutes monodrama, Blur’s song started to hover in my heart and I was haunted by some vague sadness.
Directed by Victor Kalka, Grounded invites its audience into the life of a fighter pilot, played by Alice Birbara. When the pilot unexpectedly falls pregnant, her career in the sky ends. She returns from leave to be reassigned to operating military drones.. Sitting in the desert in Nevada while hunting Afghani terrorists on a grey screen, the pilot struggles through surreal twelve-hour shifts far from the battlefield.
With a limited budget, the SUDS Summer Slot is the perfect time for a solo show, and Birbara successfully uses the format’s simplicity to showcase a dazzling mixture of emotions. The sense of confusion and loss in Grounded covers individual existence, family completeness and political righteousness.
With great sophistication and professionalism, Alice Birbara’s performance is close to perfection, absorbing the audience into the pilot’s inner self, into the anxiety and imbalance of a disturbed world. Patches of dazed lines, trembling tears, screams and fatal breakdowns make for a heart-breaking, yet strangely beautiful, tragedy of identity-lost. Watching Birbara’s performance is like observing a musician composing symphony.
In the last few scenes, as the pressure to track a high-profile target mounts, the boundaries begin to blur between the desert in which the pilot lives and the one she patrols half a world away: reality blends with fantasy and Birbara herself steps into the story.
Another thing worth mentioning is the unique design of the stage setting, which adds a new flavour to the familiar cellar theatre. An open box lends a profound sense of oppression and constraint, accentuating the picture of the pilot operating drones in the windowless trailer.
I strongly recommend you to lock a seat in the Cellar tonight and spare 80 minutes for this amazing play. Watching Grounded is not a pleasant experience. It makes you uncomfortable. It makes you think. In the end of the play, the blueness of the walls dims. When the vastness of blue turned into the emptiness of grey, I was horrified.
However, you don’t want to be comfortably numb, and you don’t want to be grounded, do you?