An edited version of this review was published in APT613.
This short one-woman play by George Brant explores the devastating impact of detached modern warfare on an air force combat pilot who is grounded to become part of the “chair-force” guiding unmanned drones from a windowless trailer in the Nevada desert.
Directed by Eleanor Crowder there is little on the starkly set stage – a chair and a large suspended sheet – requiring Alexis M Scott, the unnamed pilot, to deliver a powerhouse and energetic physical performance. This is a challenges Scott rises to with assurance.
Scott dominates the opening scene with spirited energy as she articulates the freedom and camaraderie of the air force. Her plane “tiger”, her gear, her missions, her accomplishments all define who she her. She’s a self-satisfied, cocky woman proud of her world and the job that defines her. Her sense of achievement and embrace of top gun macho posturing as she soars through her beloved “blue” or decompresses with male colleagues in a bar is intense.
After meeting Eric, a supportive and accommodating partner, who sees her as “the rock star that I am” there follows an unexpected pregnancy that leads “the blue”, her sky-high Shangri-La, to be replaced by “the grey” visual feedback of an unmanned drone pointed directly downwards over a faraway land. Relegated to flying drones her cockpit is now an airless trailer where the solo fly girl is part of a team that decides the fate of those below though it is her own white-knuckle hand that controls the trigger once judgment is made. The threat of imminent violent reprisal is gone but where she once fled an airstrike now she must linger over the combat zone surveying the horrible writhing outcome of strikes.
The immersive long-term battles of old, that removed her from family duties, are gone as is the camaraderie that accompanied real-life conflict and now she alone must flip a switch between war and domesticity on a 12-hour basis. Initially an attempt to view modern warfare as a gift allowing greater family time gives over to the incongruent juxtaposition of 12 hours of classified violence followed by domestic routine.
Scott paces the stage first ecstatically, even arrogantly, and then as her situation shifts the movements become wary with a haunted trepidation. In a resonant scene, on a week’s leave she takes her daughter to the mall where the ubiquitous surveillance cameras overwhelm her as post-traumatic stress engulfs her. The stage lighting glows red and her fixed stare is spot lit as the threatening torment builds and the price of detached warfare is revealed.
George Brant’s award winning tale is relevant and provocative while Scott is masterful filling the theatre with bravado and tension. Her physical performance takes her audience easily with her on a journey across deserts and domesticity, through swagger and fierce pride, to a place of great fragility as she too becomes an unhinged casualty of war. This brief theatre touches on much in its 75 minutes from gender roles, modern warfare, motherhood, advocacy, secrecy and self-awareness as it considers an enemy close to home.
January 18-27, 2018
At The Gladstone