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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Grounded
When the war is at home

Review by Wally Gordon

Also see Richard's reviews of Other Desert Cities and Lady Windermere's Fan


Lauren English
Photo by Photos by Sebastian Gutierrez
The slight young woman seems enlarged by the combat boots and Air Force pilot's uniform she sports as she proudly struts around the bare stage, actually no more than a corridor with the audience seated on either side. For 75 minutes, Lauren English is mesmerizing as she depicts the ecstasy and decline of an Air Force major who begins as a fighter pilot in Iraq "in love with the blue" but is forced by pregnancy and military bureaucracy to become a drone pilot.

Instead of living out her romantic dream of flying alone in the blue above the war zone, she sits in a chair at an Air Force base in the Nevada desert and manipulates a drone attacking suspected enemies 10,000 miles away in Afghanistan. What this change does to her is the substance of Grounded, the current offering of the San Francisco Playhouse, which will play until September 7.

The one-woman drama written by George Brant and directed by Susannah Martin is a triumph for English, who has her audience in the palm of her hand from the opening sentence, when she announces, "I never wanted to take it off," a reference to the uniform which becomes a symbol of the way her military role subsumes the rest of her life, including her profound love for her husband Eric and young daughter Sam.

We watch horrified as the moral and psychological toll of the work step by step destroys this strong and impassioned young woman. The toll is a complex one, a melange of the bloodshed of war, the ambiguity of remote killing and the mechanizing, the lobotomizing, of remote death. Eventually, she starts to see "eyes in sky" everywhere, in malls and restrooms and over her own home.

The writing is powerful and effective. The staging is simple, the only prop a chair on wheels. At the end of the stage is a large screen onto which from time to time are projected images of skies and clouds, desertscapes and the city of Las Vegas. Music, alternately gentle and raucous, and sometimes harsh sounds come and go.

It all creates a kind of frame in which English does her magic. Her performance is, in a single word, unforgettable.

Grounded through September 7. For tickets and information call 415-677-9596 or go to sfplayhouse.org.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Wally Gordon



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