With Grounded, now playing in Durham, NC’s Manbites Dog Theater, under the direction of Talya Klein, playwright George Brant has suddenly become the best-known new playwright in America. Grounded is a penetrating examination of how warfare is changing from face-to-face confrontations — even at the distance between warplanes and targets — to the technologically supported distance that drones allow — which may also change the nature of the warriors.
A further implication, of course, is that sterile slaughter from long distance may change the way war affects the population the war is being fought for. If waging war becomes a boring, nine-to-five task, what incentive is there for any country to avoid it?
The Manbites Dog production of Grounded takes place mostly on a six-inch riser, perhaps 16 feet square, painted black on top with mustard yellow sides, planted in the middle of an otherwise bare stage. The entire room is painted black.
Upon entering the theater, the audience will find the actor, Madeleine Lambert, performing military workout exercises in the far corner, apparently unaware an audience is forming. She does push-ups, sit-ups, wall presses, back-to-the-wall leg stretches. She is dressed in an OD Air Force flight suit.
When the lights go down, she struts out onto the rim of the platform and begins to talk.She starts off like a sonic boom; she makes us think of Top Gun. Somehow you know that’s going to turn. She has been in actual battles, and is now going to face a new set of challenges in an entirely different kind of warfare. She will also be tested in the give and take of marriage and motherhood.
Madeleine Lambert does a superb job in this role. Her military demeanor is fresh off the base, completely believable, as are her mannerisms and gestures as a fighter pilot. She is definitely the “right stuff.” The transition that she accomplishes to arrive at the denouement requires the skills of a very fine actor, and she does not let us down. She touches every point of philosophical contention along the way from the thrill of the kill to the feel of her daughter’s pink pony. The candor of her sexual appetite never verges on the prurient, but rather is natural and commonplace.
Author George Brant has, for the most part, done his homework, gathering and employing believably the jargon of the job, the atmosphere of the military domain, the pride and valor warriors bring their job, and the technical aspects of flying both F-16s and drones. The net result is a powerful and provocative piece that raises questions contemporary civilization must cope with as technology more and more allows us to go to war without actually going there.
Audiences should not come away forgetting that no matter how we gain ground during combat, people in boots must still occupy the conquered the land. We, the reviewers, feel, from our military experience, that the ending is unrealistic, that probably the problem would have been resolved in another way, effective as the dramatic ending may be.
SECOND OPINION: March 24th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/03/24/3728964/grounded-is-winner-in-manbites.html; March 19th Durham, NC Duke Chronicle (student newspaper) preview by Stephanie Wu: http://www.dukechronicle.com/articles/2014/03/20/one-woman-award-winning-play-opens-tonight-manbites; March 19th Durham, NC Indy Week mini-preview by Stephanie Wu: http://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/grounded/Event?oid=3901256; and March 17th Chapel Hill, NC WUNC/91.5 FM interview with director Talya Klein and actress Madeleine Lambert, conducted by Stephanie Wu for “The State of Things”: http://wunc.org/post/air-force-chair-force.
Manbites Dog Theater presents GROUNDED at 8:15 p.m. March 27-29, 2 p.m. March 30, and 8:15 p.m. April 2-5 at 703 Foster St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $12 weeknights and $18 Friday-Sunday, with a $2 discount for seniors 62+ and active-duty military personnel. Student tickets are $5 with ID.
BOX OFFICE: 919-682-3343 or https://manbites.tixato.com/buy.
VIDEO PREVIEW (by Jon Haas): http://vimeo.com/89066590. 2013-14 SEASON: http://manbitesdogtheater.org/2013-14-season/.
PRESENTER/VENUE: http://www.manbitesdogtheater.org/, https://www.facebook.com/manbitestheater, and https://twitter.com/ManbitesTheater.
Grounded (2013 play): http://georgebrant.net/plays.html (official web page).
The Script: http://books.google.com/ (Google Books).
George Brant (playwright): http://georgebrant.net/ (official website) and https://twitter.com/GeorgeBrant3 (Twitter page).
Talya Klein (director) http://www.browntrinity.com/alumni/director-talyaklein/ (Brown/Trinity MFA Programs bio) and https://www.facebook.com/talyaklein (Facebook page).
Madeleine Lambert (actress) http://www.browntrinity.com/alumni/actor-madeleinelambert/ (Brown/Trinity MFA Programs bio).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.