Like any other one-woman show, Grounded’s success relies on its heroine. In this case, it’s a nameless Wyoming country girl-turned-fighter pilot living her dream—until a pregnancy and new husband find her benched in Nevada. There, fighting a war becomes a 9-to-5 job: Wake up, take your daughter to preschool, fly drones through a screen, make it home in time for dinner, repeat.
Grounded, written by American playwright George Brant, made headlines when Anne Hathaway joined the Off-Broadway cast last year. Now, the production makes its way to Alley Theatre, this time starring Elizabeth Bunch and directed by Jackson Gay.
“I first read the play about two years ago, and [was] so instantly hooked, so instantly interested and moved. It’s so topical—you open the newspaper today and you’re going to find an article about drone warfare. It is present. So just as a thinking citizen this has questions and stories and values that we are only beginning to explore as a culture,” says Bunch.
Despite this, both Gay and Bunch say that the play is apolitical, choosing to focus on the difficulties of being a woman in a world as hypermasculine as the military.
“It’s incredibly interesting to me as a woman, as mother, as a wife, that this is an entree into that discussion for anyone that has a family, for anyone that’s trying to balance home, work, life,” says Bunch. “That’s very much what [the play’s protagonist] has to do.”
This isn’t Bunch’s first time working with Gay. The two have collaborated in two other Alley Theatre plays—Bunch is a Resident Company member and has appeared in dozens of Alley Theatre productions, from Dolly in One Man and Desdemona in Othello to Mrs. Kendal in The Elephant Man and Rosalind in As You Like It. Gay, a Sugar Land native, has directed plays across the country.
With Gay at its helm and with Brant’s writing, Grounded brings its protagonist down to earth by making it firmly a woman’s story. In one-woman shows, the actress’ performance makes or breaks the play. Gay and Bunch had to ensure that, despite the controversial topic, audiences are still rooting for Bunch’s performance and her character.
“Whatever your politics are in the end, the play really is more about a woman who struggles with going to war every single day and then coming home to make grilled cheese sandwiches for her family. She’s supposed to act like that’s OK and normal,” says Gay.
Gay’s interpretation looks at the pilot’s emotional and mental journey over the years depicted in the play—as she puts it, she looks at the humanity in the pilot, not the politics of drone warfare. In the intensity of Bunch’s performance, Gay says she almost becomes a scene partner, with the two of them working together to truly make the performance shine.
Thru April 17. $46 Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave. 713-220-5700. alleytheatre.org