There are those rare occasions when life and art mirror each other so perfectly you can’t help but get goosebumps. Watching Grounded, the one-woman show starring a remarkable Anne Hathaway at the Public Theater, was one of those times.
Hathaway stars as a confident fighter pilot who finds her career unexpectedly re-routed after an unexpected pregnancy lands her on the ground. Instead of flying planes, she is now operating drones remotely. And the effects this change has on her are not easy to watch – along with the jolting reminder they deliver of the recent news events regarding drones in the real world.
Helmed by Julie Taymor, the visionary director known for her illusory work involving silks, puppets and masks, Grounded allows Taymor to showcase her talents in different ways. Grounded is staged on a lonely pile of sand, with one chair, and some projections. It’s through light and sound – and Hathway’s extraordinary performance – that the audience is taken on this journey.
George Brant’s 85-minute play offers a unique exploration of the psychological impact of engaging in warfare from a female point of view. Hathaway’s character, who is unnamed, swaggers, strolls and drinks with the guys. Discussing her love life, she says, “Most guys don’t like what I do. Feel they’re less of a guy around me. I take the guy spot, and they don’t know where they belong.” After meeting Eric, who appreciates her strength and character, and discovering she is pregnant, she declares she is facing “the pilot’s nightmare.”
Relegated to the “chair force,” the Pilot finds herself attacking people remotely by use of drones, and watching death happen up close. She describes her days in a patient monotone – driving for an hour across the desert, staring at a screen for 12 hours a day, another hour of driving and then watching TV with her husband. The thrill is gone and what has replaced it is slowly eating away at her. When shopping with her daughter at the mall, she becomes paranoid by the use of cameras in stores like JC Penny.
Hathaway’s cropped hair, expressive face and enormous eyes are the only recognizable aspects of the Academy Award-winning actress known for her offscreen energy. Her performance as the confident, cocky pilot slowly seeping into a paranoid, damaged person, is transformative. She is captivating for the entire performance, which is brisk, efficient and incredibly powerful. The play itself is a valuable piece of work, and with Hathaway and Taymor delivering it to the audience, it is even more so.