Review: “The Women of Lockerbie” (AstonRep Theatre Company)

Morgan Manasa, Barbara Button, Hayley Rice, Lorraine Freund, Sara Pavlak McGuire, and Alexandra Bennett/Photo: Jeremiah Barr
Morgan Manasa, Barbara Button, Hayley Rice, Lorraine Freund, Sara Pavlak McGuire, and Alexandra Bennett/Photo: Jeremiah Barr

Show: “The Women of Lockerbie”

Company: AstonRep Theatre Company

Venue: The Raven Theatre (6157 N Clark St)

Die Roll: 16

Upon entering a theatre space, I make it a custom not to look at the set until I am seated. My goal is to view the design elements as whole, then take note of important details. While searching for a chair before AstonRep Theatre Company’s “The Women of Lockerbie,” now playing at The Raven Theatre, I found myself drawn to one haunting item onstage. It was a floral patterned blouse, nothing flashy or out of the ordinary. But it was suspended in mid-air, hanging from wires, as if eternally falling.

This piece of clothing, along with several sets of pants and t-shirts and sweaters also hanging over the stage, represents the sum total left behind by the victims of Pan Am flight 103, which met a fiery end over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988.  Playwright Deborah Brevoort sets her tale of forgiveness and grief seven years after the disaster. American couple Bill (Jeff Brown) and Madeline Livingston (Amy Kasper) are visiting the town in search of closure for their son’s death; he was on board the plane because he was returning from his time studying abroad in the United Kingdom. A community group known as the “Women of Lockerbie,” headed by determined leader Olive (Alexandra Bennett), help the couple mourn, while hatching plans to obtain the other victims’ clothing, wash it, and return the suitcases to their grieving families.

Inspired by the story of real-life community activists, who collected and cleaned items left behind by the crash, “The Women of Lockerbie” is at its most poignant when characters describe their first interactions with the event. Bennett places particular, heartbreaking emphasis that she, like Kasper, was baking a pie when the plane went down. The Women (embodied by Barbara Button, Lorraine Freund, Morgan Manasa, and Hayley Rice) each get a chance to tell their own tales of discovered wreckage and twisted bodies, and the actresses use those stories to connect directly with the audience and with each other. Manasa and Rice were most notable to me due to their warm relationship; whenever Rice revealed gruesome details about the day, Manasa was nearby, hand outstretched to take hers.

Morgan Manasa, Barbara Button, and Alexandra Bennett/Photo: Jeremiah Barr
Morgan Manasa, Barbara Button, and Alexandra Bennett/Photo: Jeremiah Barr

A solid ensemble is key to this script’s success, as Brevoort de-emphasizes most onstage plot in favor of a forty-five minute storytelling round. Like the ancient Greek dramatists before her, she believes the answers to present problems lie in the past, but unlike Sophocles and Aeschylus, the questions Kasper and Brown hurl at the Women — about why their son had to die, about how best to process grief — do not have concrete answers. There is no banishment for this plague, as there is with the murderer king Oedipus. Thus, the script sometimes repeats the same sadness over and over without relief or dramatic consequence, and that can become trying for the audience. Director Robert Tobin encourages sincerity at all times from each cast member, so their words are impossible to drown out, but more variety in the anger and hope expressed, especially by Kasper and Brown, might have made the play seem less cloying in certain scenes. The final moments of the production, however, are packed with quiet power, as the Women and Kasper and Bennett unite in a single cleansing action that moves the viewer.

The set, designed by Jeremiah Barr, includes suspended clothing and clothing that litters the stage, so the actors can barely move without stepping on someone else’s socks and shorts. It effectively literalizes the ghosts haunting Lockerbie, while projection work by Tobin mostly muddles this set-up. The landscape projected on the space’s back wall clearly represents the rolling hills of Lockerbie, but the Women’s magical descriptions of their environment far exceed any two-dimensional picture one could find. There was also a virus warning screen that popped up over the projection early in the play, which took me out of the action for a minute or so. Perhaps it would have been better, as with all the stories shared, to leave the moors of Scotland to the imagination.

“The Women of Lockerbie” is a powerful piece of work, and provides a showcase for several emotionally charged performances. If the script takes its time to render the dramatic action, at least the actors are dedicated to fiercely displaying the truths of their disrupted lives. They move towards something akin to closure, even as the left-behind clothing continues to dangle above their heads.

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Women in mourning attempt to heal after the Lockerbie disaster.

RATING: d10 — “Worth Going To”