Playwright: George Brandt. At: American Blues at the Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets: 773-404-7336; www.americanbluestheater.com; $19-$49. Runs through: July 13
For most of the last century, wars were fought chiefly by unmarried men and women who enlisted for two to four years, during which their lives were almost totally immersed in the military environment, where those assigned to combat duty devoted their waking hours to killing when ordered to do so ( while avoiding being, themselves, killed ). For the last two wars, though, service personnel have been reservists, called from their civilian lifestyles to the front lines as needed for a few months at a time.
Our protagonist begins as a career combat pilot in the U.S. Air Forcea swaggering Top Gun enamored of the Wild Blue Yonder and the power that comes of dropping bombs on unseen bad guys. Marriage and parenthood interrupt temporarily, but soon our ace is back on the job. Ah, but technology now dictates that tasks once accomplished from a cockpit in the sky be executed from a windowless trailer by computer techs who stalk America's enemies and, with the touch of a button, incinerate them via remote control drone missile. Destroying evil in the "chair-force" ( as this video-game combat is scornfully dubbed by its practitioners ) is not without its adrenal attractions, but the luxury of dispensing death from a safe distance creates different hazards.
These unforeseen consequences are addressed by George Brandt, who surveys the terrain of this new battlefield with a candor unbiased by Hollywood cliches ( e.g., mummy or daddy cheerfully skyping with loved ones in the USA, as if overseas deployments were weekend business trips ). For one, the base of operations for stealth warfare is Nevadaa desert landscape not unlike that of Afghanistan, especially when your work environment precludes ever seeing daylight. For another, the surveillance cameras scrolling the monochrome satellite images mandate that you watch your faceless targets dieoften slowly. When air strikes are drive-bys conducted in 12-hour shifts only an hour away from the living room housing your own spouse and baby daughter, security cameras in malls suddenly become menacing.
None of the concerns that Brandt invokes would matter if Gwendolyn Whitesidedid I mention that our jet jockey is a woman?and director Lisa Portes had been content to wring hands and hankies for audiences looking only for a good cry. Both, however, go above and beyond to ascertain that our heroine's long fall to the ground originates from a height sufficiently tragic to earn, first, our concentration, then our sympathy and ultimately, our contemplation of the grim psychological price exacted by wars upon those who fight them.