Lennox Theatre, March 16


Gods were pretty much expunged from western art when the Roman Empire succumbed to Christianity. A pity. Understanding this waste of raw material, American writer George Brant used his 2011 one-hander, Grounded, to reinstate the god-figure to our stages. His god is just called The Pilot, initially flying F-16 missions in Iraq. Despite her power to rain down death from the vast blue sky she loves so much, she is mortal to begin, in that combat missions, by definition, mean she, too, can die.

Emily Havea. Photo: Noni Carroll.

She can also fall pregnant, as she does to earthbound Eric after a few drinks. Pregnancies and extreme G-forces don’t mix, so she has to bail out of Iraq to have little Samantha, and by the time she’s ready to soar back up into her natural habitat of infinite blue, the air force has gone and moved the horizon on her. F-16s are now so 20th-century. What they need are drone pilots. Flying missions in Afghanistan. Living in Las Vegas. Going to war each day, and then home to the cosy domesticity of blackjack-dealing Eric and little Sam.

Now, too, she is invulnerable. Her all-seeing drone can unleash death with inch-perfect accuracy, while she sits safely in an air-conditioned room in a different desert staring at nifty shades of grey on a screen. Even the language is the language of gods (and judges): military-age males on the roadside are deemed guilty or not guilty, and, if the former, they die. Simple. Cue high fives.

Brant’s play twists stabs of poetry (Eric, she tells us, can feel the sky in her when they have sex) and brutal realism into such potency that each audience member should be strapped into his or her seat. But Brant’s words would be nothing without an actor to give them wings, and Emily Havea, skilfully directed by Dom Mercer (for the National Theatre of Parramatta), takes us into the heavens with her, and then breaks our hearts with her fall from impervious god into something nearer a state of grace. She dares to bleed empathy, and wars and empathy mix no better than F-16s and pregnancies. On Jonathan Hindmarsh’s pitilessly simple set Alexander Berlage crafts lighting that defines her space and time, heightened by Mary Rapp’s score. Don’t miss this. It will burn itself into your mind.

Until March 23.