“Women of Lockerbie” is a moving play that deals with the psychological effects of a tragedy. Devorah Brevoort’s script, which hinges on the 1988 crash of Pan Am Flight 103 in Lockerbie, Scotland, tells the story of fictional characters whose grief for the loss of a loved one is transformative.
The play is being performed at the Chapel Theater by the College of Charleston Department of Theater and Dance as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival.
Madeline (Ryan Gunning) and Bill Livingston (Peter Spearman) are a couple from New Jersey who travel to Scotland seven years after the crash, hoping to find some belongings of their son, Adam. While the mother looks fiercely for her son’s remains, the father meets a group of women who wants to persuade U.S. government official George Jones (Bronson Taylor) not to burn the passenger’s clothing, sealed in bags.
At the beginning, the story’s pace is a bit slow, with the main characters not getting as much attention as, for example, a scene-stealing Scottish woman with a walking stick. Gradually, though, Madeline, an unstable woman unable to deal with her grief, becomes the center of the story.
Even though Gunning is a young woman, she convincingly portrays a mature mother, and among her finest moments is the delicate way she describes the realization that her son was on the plane.
Indeed, this vibrant role overshadowed that of her husband. One would expect a more dramatic explosion from a father who has hidden his feelings for so many years. Simultaneously, the character of Olive Allison (Brenna McNamara) is quite rigid, although she seems much more vivid when it becomes evident that she has also been affected by the crash.
What is remarkable about this play is the ability to depict the different aspects of grief: fault (“Why did I tell him to come for Christmas?”), anxiety, frustration (“Why did this happen to me?”) and hate, to the point that the audience shares the distress of the characters.
The simple stage helps to create a mournful and respectful environment reinforced by a chorus that highlights the pain and simultaneously gives rhythm to the plot.
Even though Brevoort at times over-explains the characters’ pain, she does succeed in showing their need to achieve peace of mind.
The strength of “Women of Lockerbie” is its ability to describe suffering in a way that goes beyond a particular tragedy and applies to any calamity, and also the way it highlights the difficulty of true forgiveness.
With such dramatic scenes, several moments — featuring the chorus; Taylor’s strong performance; Allyson Musmeci’s funny portrayal of Hattie, who works for the U.S official; and especially a scene of the women washing the clothes — are a necessary relief for an audience seeking a similar serenity as the characters.
Lucía Camargo Rojas is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.