George Brant's Grounded is doing the theatrical version of blowing up. Over the last two years, more than a dozen productions have been produced of the one-woman show about a female fighter pilot stuck at desk job running drone missions.
Frank Theatre's Wendy Knox has kept her eye on the piece for some time, and was able to include it as a second play this fall for the company.
Knox cast Sha Cage as the pilot. Cage has worked with Frank several times in the past, including on Eclipsed, Venus, and Fucking A. All of these were difficult shows (a Frank hallmark).
"She's a phenomenal actor. She can just rip your guts out. She is one of my favorite actors to work with," Knox says. "After casting her, it occurred to me that, with the demographics of the military, she is the first African-American actor to do it."
In the play, the unnamed pilot has been grounded after becoming pregnant. In place of her familiar cockpit, she has been assigned to a desk job in Las Vegas. There, she runs drone strikes all day long, and then goes home to her daughter every evening.
That currency is part of the show's popularity. "It's such an interesting topic, with drones and our use of them becoming more and more prevalent in conversation," Knox says.
During rehearsals, Knox and Cage have worked to make every moment in the play honest and clear. Part of the challenge is the way the story is told, with shifts in style and tone throughout.
Design wise, the staging has been kept simple. Knox considered using video to represent the day-to-day life the pilot experiences operating the drones, but instead favored just lights, sound, and Cage's performance to bring out that aspect.
"Her instincts are great, and we have a real shorthand," Knox says about rehearsals.
The playwright visited and watched the first read through of the play. He also gave them a slightly updated script. Cage also met with a couple of actors who have played the Pilot in previous productions.
"We have these actors bounding over playing this pilot," Knox says.
IF YOU GO
Grounded Friday through November 23 Playwrights' Center 2301 E. Franklin Ave., Minneapolis $20-$25 For tickets and more information, call 612.724.3760 or visit online.