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The Women of Lockerbie

To believe (this has happened for a reason) would mean that Adam died so I could learn and grow. And that’s not true. There is no lesson so important that it was worth the price of his life. To believe that would mean that I am at the center of the universe and that all things happen for my benefit. And they don’t. — Bill, Adam’s father

Kate Mulligan
(Photo: Jean-Louis Danville)
Deborah Brevoort has cast her play about the women of Lockerbie’s response to the crash of Pan Am 3 in the form of a Greek tragedy. She felt it worked better than in a naturalistic fashion which made it “sink to the level of melodrama” and that heightened poetic language cast a necessary perspective. Her instinct was sound, even though she hasn’t completely escaped occasional mawkisness, any more than director Brent Hinkley’s adherence to the stage directions hasn’t entirely escaped gloom and stiffness. Still there’s emotional power and some fine writing in this production mounted with an excellent cast at The Actors’ Gang.

The play takes place seven years after the crash on the night when a memorial service is held in Lockerbie. Madeline Livingston is still almost mad with grief for her only child, Adam, a 20-year-old college student killed on that flight. Her husband Bill has brought her here in a last-ditch attempt at healing. Three women, Olive Allison and two others, join them on the hillside where Madeline roams wildly searching for traces of Adam. The group is frustrated by George Jones, the American government representative who plans to burn the stained clothes of victims. The women want to wash them and return them to the families but Jones wants to bury the tragedy. His stubborn feisty cleaning woman Hattie turns out to be the women’s only hope.

Although, according to the press notes, these are actual quotes, such lines as "We need to give love to those who have suffered" and "Hatred will never have the last word in Lockerbie" (which even George admits sounds like a headline) strike self-conscious notes. Maddie’s constant self-recriminations ring true but become as boring and maddening to the audience as Bill.

Brevoort’s writing is most powerful when it’s simplest. One of the play’s most poignant speeches comes from Bill as he tells about returning his dead son’s Christmas gifts to six stores. The clothes he’ll never wear are echoed in the play’s final moments as the women of Lockerbie finally win their battle to wash the victims’ clothes and return them to their families.

Maddie and Bill’s healing by the discovering of Adam’s suitcase may have been intended to show a positive reaction by the victims’ families to the receipt of the washed clothes but it has a forced quality. Also incomplete is Maddie’s monologue about the pointlessness of going on living for meals, bridge, and other trivial pursuits. The speech would have been much stronger if we saw Maddie as less shallow, having a worthwhile life, such as teaching, medicine or even volunteer work.

Brent Hinckley directs with a highly sensitive feel for the rhythms of the play, alternating the moments of Maddie’s unbearable grief with the women’s fight for the clothes, spearheaded by the resourceful Hattie. The beginnning in darkness on a hill with only darting flashlights from the characters goes on too long and loses the audience.

The fine cast takes up the slack very quickly, headed by Kate Mulligan whose stunning embodiment of grief would do justice to Greek tragedies; Silas Weir Mitchell as her husband who reveals the every day quality of his grief by clutching his scarf around his neck as if the cold he feels is a perennial chill to the soul. Mary Eileen O’Donnell turns in a powerful performance as Olive Allison, whose family were victims, too. Patti Tippo adds humor as the spirited Hattie.

Having the cast members labeled Woman 1 and Woman 2 makes it impossible to credit them. Brevoort’s intent, presumably, is to make them stand for a Greek chorus. They and Robert Shampain have the thankless tasks of playing one-dimensional characters. Ann Closs-Farley did especially well by the Scottish costumes but provided evocative clothes for both the living and the dead.

For a review of the play's World premiere in New York do here

Playwright: Deborah Brevoort
Director: Brent Hinkley
Cast: .Kate Mulligan (Madeline), Silas Weir Mitchell (Bill), Mary Eileen O’Donnell (Olive), Terri Lynn Harris (Woman 1), Anna Sommer (Woman 2), Patti Tippo (Hattie), Robert Shampain (George)
Set Design: Sibyl Wickersheimer
Lighting Design: Bosco Flanagan
Costume Design: Ann Closs-Farley
Sound Design: John Zalewski
Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission
Running Dates: February 24-April 28, 2007
Where: The Actors’ Gang, Ivy Substation, 9080 Venice Blvd, Culver City, Reservations: (310) 838-GANG.
Reviewed by Laura Hitchcock on February 25.
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