Directed by Brent Laing, the College of Charleston Dept. of Theatre & Dance, as part of their Piccolo Spoleto’s Stelle di Domani series, perform The Women of Lockerbie, an award-winning play by Deborah Brevoort that concerns the tragedy of the Pan Am Flight 103 tragedy of December 21, 1988, which killed the 259 passengers on board and 11 local residents of Lockerbie, Scotland, where the plane crashed. Brevoort’s play takes place in 1995, seven years later, in Lockerbie where families and those concerned gather for a vigil. December 21, once a solstice celebration in Lockerbie, is now a solemn time of memorial. The play follows an American couple, the Livingstons, who have come to a vigil in Lockerbie seven years after. The wife, Madeline, is still grieving and searching desperately for the remains of her son who was on the plane and died at age 20.
The seven cast members are young students whose Scottish accents falter at times, and while it takes a while to warm up to the cast, they end up pulling it off. Ryan Gunning (Madeline Livingston) and Peter Spearman (Bill Livingston) play a believable grief-stricken couple struggling for a sense of resolution. Their strengths lie especially in the final moments of the play, where the characters’ vulnerability and tenderness surface. (There was much audience sniffling towards the end.)
Brenna McNamara (Olive Allison) is convincing in her role as a no-nonsense woman of Lockerbie who has her own ax to grind, and Haley Barfield and Kaitlin Lieck (as Woman 1 and Woman 2) make up the important support system at the heart of the women’s laundry project. Allyson Musmeci, in her role as Hattie, the subversive employee of George Jones, serves as delightful comic relief. Bronson Taylor is convincing as a jerk-turned-nice-guy — George Jones, the representative the U.S. government has sent to shut down the memorial service and to burn over 11,000 articles of clothing from the tragedy.
The writing of the play itself is stunning in its poetic bits on grief and its use of language and vivid, graphic detail, particularly seen in the women of Lockerbie’s stories. For instance, one woman tells of the pile of 71 bodies that landed in her living room and of seeing the faces of the dead. Another, after walking through the warehouse that holds the victims’ clothes, comments, “How neatly everything is stacked on the shelves of sorrow.”
No-frills set and lighting by John W. King emphasize the starkness of lives razed by tragedy. The play opens, after the recording of the BBC news of the crash, on the foggy hills of Lockerbie; characters enter through the exit doors. The second-tier upper stage serves as the Lockerbie hills over which Madeline Livingston roams searching for her son Adam.
Costumes (Ashley Walters), like the set, are minimal. The women of Lockerbie are dressed in jeans and jean jackets, scarves, and boots. Madeline Livingston is appropriately matronly in black pants, blazer, and a red plaid shirt; her husband Bill wears a bomber jacket and beige slacks. George Jones, in slacks, trench coat, and nice shirt and tie looks the part of the Washington authority figure, and Hattie affects an elderly servant in glasses and bun, and a frumpy sweater and denim skirt. It was unclear how old some of the characters were supposed to be, though, as there was little attempt to hide the ages of the young cast.
Women in Lockerbie examines important issues such as grief and how it afflicts a couple; at how harboring hate perpetuates the cycle of violence (one character says “Hatred is love that has been injured”), and how isolating oneself leads to despair, fracturing of self, and splintering from community. The play explores death, seemingly random choices and their consequences, and questions of free will versus a higher power.
Even more significantly, it’s about the power of kindness in the face of real grief, about redemptive acts of love. As one woman of Lockerbie says, speaking of the meaningfulness of washing and restoring tangible objects of the victims, “Clothes aren’t just clothes. They have life.” Brevoort’s play is not just a play; it offers hope that acts of love might help to redeem our own brokenness.