Powerful Hathaway, dazzling Taymor in a drone world.
Timeliness is an understatement when it comes to "Grounded," the one-woman play about a drone pilot that opened this weekend amid news of the accidental killing of two hostages by an American drone attack.
But George Brant's 2011 drama is more than just eerily prescient. Nor is the work, starring Anne Hathaway and conceived by Julie Taymor, merely a flashy vehicle for a glamour-puss movie star and an A-list director with a genius for special effects.
This is a taut, visceral psychological portrait of a rare woman fighter pilot, whose unquestioning love of the military mission, the danger and the open blue skies is derailed -- first by an unexpected pregnancy, then by a profound shift in the way we practice war.
Hathaway, back onstage after her delightful 2009 Central Park debut in "Twelfth Night," gives a tightly-wound, unfussy, acutely disciplined portrayal of the woman identified in the program only as The Pilot. With a pinched tomboy twang and a cocky pride in her flight suit, she goes from "fantasy girl up in the sky" to what she initially mocks as the "Chair Force" at a video screen in an office in Las Vegas.
None of this would be so remarkable without Taymor, alchemist of "The Lion King" and battered survivor of "Spider-Man, Turn Off the Dark." With just a stage covered with sand and a black mirror, she and her set, lighting and projection designers take us on a journey that, at least in these magical hands, momentarily makes scenery obsolete.
Her daily drive along the highway from home to the office where she conducts computerized modern warfare is lit with a surreal sense of distance. Her trip to the mall gets woozy with what suddenly feels like threatening escalators. Even the area rug in the character's new suburban house has texture.
The different locations are as emotional as they are visual. Brant, without preaching, lets us experience the woman's unraveling. She begins as the unquestioning hunter for what she calls "the guilty" in unnamed countries in the Middle East. Finally, she realizes we may all soon be under the same surveillance that she manipulates with a joystick over figures in the faraway desert.
Instead of focusing on effects of drone warfare on the ground, "Grounded" spreads the damage around with a precision strike on modern life itself.
WHERE Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.
INFO $90; 212-967-7555