On rare occasions, a piece of theater can become even more relevant than its creators expected it to be due to recent events in the world — to the point of being downright eerie.
For example, just a few days after the president’s announcement that two civilian hostages were accidentally killed in a drone strike targeting terrorists, George Brant’s engrossing one-woman drama about a military drone pilot engaged in anti-terrorist operations — starring Anne Hathaway and directed by Julie Taymor — has opened at the Public Theater.
At the start, Hathaway, wearing an Air Force uniform, is like a female version of Tom Cruise’s Maverick in “Top Gun” — a cocky fighter pilot who loves her job, being one of the guys and the sensation of being up in the sky. But soon enough, she meets a nice guy in a bar and finds herself pregnant. After her daughter is born, she is reassigned to operating a remote-controlled drone aircraft from a military base outside Las Vegas.
Although she initially chides “Chair Force” work as beneath her, these long shifts of sitting in a chair, operating a joystick, and obsessively watching images of moving targets take hold of her mentally and emotionally. When she finally receives clearance to strike a suspected terrorist, a young civilian unexpectedly gets in the way.
Rather than debate the success or legality of drone warfare, “Grounded” is intended to dramatically and psychologically explore an individual engaged in it — and it is undoubtedly successful at that.
Hathaway delivers a highly committed and aggressive performance throughout. Taymor, whose visual effects-loaded productions have included “The Lion King” and “Spider-Man,” creates a thrilling stream of video images around a bare stage, bringing the audience even deeper into the character journey.
If you go: “Grounded” plays at the Public Theater through May 24, 425 Lafayette St., publictheater.org