Maggie Lou Rader Soars in Human Race’s “Grounded”

Review by Liz Eichler, LCT

Have you ever wondered who flew the drone for the most recent air strike? Grounded, produced by Human Race Theatre may help you answer that. Written by Cleveland-based playwright George Brant, Grounded is an educational and emotional journey into the mind of a fighter pilot, and how war warps you, no matter what the technology, no matter the gender. 

Maggie Lou Rader commands the stage as the fighter pilot. Rader, also an award-winning playwright, was last scene at Human Race when she played Marie Antionette in The Revolutionists. She starts out a little cocky, too sure of herself, maybe even larger than life–unless you ever met a fighter pilot–but the next hundred minutes fly by as she navigates through her story which will leave you on the edge of your seat. 

Photo credits: Maggie Lou Rader as The Pilot
Photos by Scott J. Kimmins

She’s rough, capable, and deadly.  She flies her F16 “Tiger” in the war zone, delivers her payload, then connects with her boys and a beer, reveling in the heights she has achieved as a pilot–the symbol is her flight suit which she wears with pride. She loves the blue skies, and we as the audience love them too, as we see the clouds whiz by on the silks of parachute backdrop. (This may be one of my all-time favorite uses of projections.)

Then pregnancy grounds her.  She raises her premature daughter with a wonderful husband.  The family is transferred to Creech Air Force Base in Las Vegas. She is assigned to the “Chair Force,” where she operates a drone by day, and returns back to her family by night, a family that cannot know anything about the war she is fighting. 

This is all new to this civilian, as it seems like fantasy, but it checks out. (You can find out more at the CBS News clip here.)

What we see on stage is clearly the tip of the iceberg–the toll war has on mental health. She rattles off the fact that she is working 12 hour days 7 days a week like it’s normal,  flipping the switch to go home and be a mom and wife. But the switch doesn’t always work. Is it better to be “at war at war” where you can toss back the stress of the day with people experiencing the same thing, or bottle up the stress, and be with your family half the time? 

This story, told by a masterful actress, is definitely worth seeing by military personnel or civilians alike,  if you have–or have never–thought about who flies a drone to deliver the Hellfire missiles, or if it is something that haunts you. 

Grounded is the opening show of Human Race’s 2022-23 season, and runs September 8-25. On opening night  Executive Director Kappy Kilburn and Artistic Director Emily Wells (also the show’s director) reminded the audience that “a one-woman show does not take just one woman.” Joining director Wells on the Grounded creative team is:  D. Tristan Cupp and Jeff Heater, Scenic Realizer;  John Rensel, Lighting Designer;  Lianne Arnold, Projection Designer; Jay Brunner, Sound Designer; Production Stage Manager, Mark Tynan; and Andrew Ian Adams, Production Assistant. Again, technically this is superb. The team also worked with many local partners including Sinclair Community College, National Museum of the United States Air Force, and retired officers living in the Dayton area. 

Human Race has a number of special days coming up, including a Post Show Discussion after the 2 pm performance on September 18.  Get your tickets HERE today for this eye-opening show.

Liz Eichler has a BA and MTA in Theatre, and an MBA in Marketing. She’s been both a Professional Costumer and Marketer, and has taught at multiple colleges and universities in multiple states, currently at the University of Dayton. Liz is a past-president of LCT and has been involved for over 12 years.