April 26, 2015

Here’s some unusual tabloid fodder: Anne Hathaway has joined the Air Force! Well, no, not really. But that Oscar-winning actor gives a fiercely good performance as a cocky pilot raining bombs down on Iraq and Afghanistan in the solo play “Grounded,” by George Brant. Nor is Ms. Hathaway the only A-lister involved in the production, which opened on Sunday at the Public Theater. The show has been staged by Julie Taymor, the Tony-winning film and theater director whose reputation has latterly been somewhat dented by the folly that was “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.” In its comparative simplicity and economy, “Grounded” could be seen as a departure of sorts for both artists. Ms. Hathaway is alone onstage for about 85 minutes, with scarcely a costume change, although Ms. Taymor has provided a sleek, high-tech production surrounding her. And while the material is not new — I reviewed an excellent smaller-scale production last year — Mr. Brant’s play draws a nuanced and haunting portrait of a woman serving in the United States Armed Forces coming under pressure as the human cost of war, for combatants as well as civilians, slowly eats away at her well-armored psyche. The intriguing irony upon which the play rests is that Ms. Hathaway’s character, who remains unnamed, doesn’t begin to lose her steady grip on the righteousness of her work until she has been plucked from the sky, “the blue” as she calls it, in awe-struck, even worshipful tones. Early in the play, the pilot exudes a brash but not off-putting arrogance. Speaking of the pilot suit she’s earned, she says: “I never wanted to take it off. … This was who I was now, who I’d become through sweat and brains and guts. This is me.”