An unexpected pregnancy ends a hot-shot F16 fighter pilot’s career in the sky in Cleveland playwright George Brant’s 2012 solo drama “Grounded,” which receives its Dayton premiere Sept. 8-25 courtesy of the Human Race Theatre Company at the Loft Theatre.
When the pilot is reassigned to operate military drones from an air-conditioned trailer outside Las Vegas, she begins to struggle with hunting terrorists by day and being a wife and mother by night. As she attempts to balance both worlds, she ultimately finds herself in a downward spiral.
“This character is strong and has an amazing career, but family, marriage and maternity changes what a person has to go through to still be a human being,” said Maggie Lou Rader, who portrays the unnamed heroine. “So many things are being demanded of her in the armed forces but also while being a working mom, which is hard. And there’s something beautiful, horrifying and terrifying about how technology advances so fast that in the span of one person’s career in the Air Force, you can go from being a fighter pilot to being stuck in a chair operating unnamed aerial vehicles (UAVs).”
“Grounded,” a one-act performed without intermission, won the National New Play Network’s 2012 Smith Prize, recognizing outstanding achievement in plays focusing on American politics, and a Fringe First Award at the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Academy Award winner Anne Hathaway starred in its 2015 off-Broadway production at The Public Theater directed by Julie Taymor.
“This is such a juicy play to dive into,” Rader noted. “It asks so many questions. It’s important to stop and ask yourself are you happy? Are you still content with the career choice you’ve made? So many people changed their careers during COVID, which feels so relevant to me right now.”
In addition to being a playwright whose latest work, “Let. Her. Rip.,” was seen at Utah Shakespeare Festival, Rader’s acting credits include Maggie in Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” Marie Antoniette in the Human Race’s “The Revolutionists” and Mary Shelley in Know Theatre of Cincinnati’s “Mary’s Monster.” She said she feels drawn to strong female characters because she is committed to telling epic stories of epic women. “Grounded” simply fits the empowering mold that fuels her passion.
Credit: SCOTT J. KIMMINS
Credit: SCOTT J. KIMMINS
“For so long, the everyman was a white male but there’s something really strong that’s changing, and I’m so drawn to characters who are fully-fleshed human beings,” Rader noted. “When you see a woman that’s a fully fleshed human being, it’s different. But everyone can come see ‘Grounded’ and see themselves in the Pilot. Very frequently, there is an unthought of qualifier we put on women, female characters, about whether they are likable. I hate that. Hamlet gets to be a man of inaction, but women are judged on whether or not they’re likable? It’s becoming less rare but to see female characters that are just real human beings lessens the pressure for me, as the performer, to have to be likable. I get to be ugly. I get to be mean. Human beings can be ugly and mean and be loved just as hard as we hate. It is a gift and a treat for an actor, and I hope it is for the audience too.”
Dawn of a new era
“Grounded” marks Human Race artistic director Emily N. Wells’ Dayton directorial debut. She officially took over her administrative role in June following the retirement of artistic director emeritus Kevin Moore.
A fan of new works who previously served as a senior producer for Houston Grand Opera, Wells is particularly embracing the script from her vantage point as a mother, which has deepened the material while guiding Rader.
“When I read this script years ago, I was drawn to the feminist energy of it, a powerful woman in a man’s world, but now that I’m a parent, I see how much every single choice you make in your life is colored by your motherhood or parenthood in the broader sense,” Wells said. “Your needs, wants and priorities shift. So, how can this warrior woman not be changed by what she experiences? Even though she undergoes some psychological effects of her job, there’s no weakness in her. She’s incredibly powerful in a very different way, which has been very rewarding to discover in the rehearsal process.”
Earlier this year, shortly after she moved to Dayton, Wells attended a luncheon at the Dayton Woman’s Club honoring women veterans inducted into the Ohio Veterans Hall of Fame. She said she enjoyed the opportunity to hear reflections that recalled the adversity within their experiences.
“These women were in the service during the ‘70s and ‘80s when things were still compartmentalized and regimented in terms of what women could do and not do in the military,” she said.
Wells also praised the exhibits dedicated to military women at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, which she visited in preparation for the upcoming premiere. She feels there are more glass ceilings yet to be broken but is thankful for plays like “Grounded” that acknowledge service and sacrifice.
“In this play, there is a wonderful tribute to the strength and power of our military women,” she said. “Dayton also has a history of women leaders, especially at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.”
As rehearsals progress, Wells is confident “Grounded,” which will utilize three parachutes as part of the set, will be a solid artistic blueprint for a new Human Race era.
“I like to work simple, effective and meaningful in relation to the text,” she said. “This is the right play at the right time. It’s the right way to express my artistic voice to the city of Dayton.”
HOW TO GO
Where: Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St., Dayton
When: Sept. 8-25; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sundays; and 7 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays
More info: Call 937-228-3630 or visit humanracetheatre.org
FYI: Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 8 p.m. is the Pay What You Can performance with first come, first served general seating. Tickets will be distributed starting at 6:30 p.m. Admission is either non-perishable food items donated to The FoodBank or cash donations that will be donated to a local nonprofit organization; A pre-show Inside Track to the play will be offered on Thursday, Sept. 8 at 7:15 p.m.; Friday, Sept. 9 is opening night; Sunday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. is the “Sawbuck Sunday” performance in which any remaining seats can be purchased 90 minutes before the performance in person at the Loft Theatre box office for $10; and the “While We’re on the Subject” talkback will be held Sunday, Sept. 18 following the 2 p.m. matinee.
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