Chicago Theatre Review
Grief is a Guest Who Stays Too Long
The Women of Lockerbie – AstonRep Theatre Company
On December 21, 1988 high over the skies of Lockerbie, Scotland, a terrorist’s bomb exploded bringing down Pan Am Flight 103. The jetliner was en route from London to New York City delivering everyone onboard home for the holidays. The brutal attack killed 243 passengers and 16 crew members. It scattered debris over 850 square miles in the town of Lockerbie, destroying 21 houses below in the peaceful little town, and taking the lives of 11 unsuspecting Scotsmen.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, several of the surviving Lockerbie women developed the Laundry Project. By providing some goodness amidst the evil of this senseless attack, this project became a means of catharsis for these ladies and would provide closure for the mourning families. They sought to secure the victims’ clothing that had showered all over the town, wash the soiled and bloodied items and return the laundered pieces to the bereaved families. George Jones, an American government official, refused the women’s pleas, deciding instead to hold onto and burn all the items from the wreckage rather than release them back to the public.
Playwright Deborah Brevoort, inspired by these events, as well as so many other recent tragedies of this kind, wrote this sentimental, classically inspired play for several reasons. This true story reminds us that, as one character puts it, “Grief is a guest who stays too long.” She reminds us, through her characters, that “grief needs to talk.” As Olive and Hattie, two of the spokeswomen for these ladies of mercy, talk to a couple who’ve lost their young son in the attack, they seek to help them find closure. Bill and Madeline Livingston have returned to the site of the incident for answers and to find something—anything—that will relieve the pain. The women talk to each other, as well, hoping to find answers and to bring a modicum of love and forgiveness to quell the horror. We learn that it takes a very long time to fully process and accept the effects of tragedy.
This is one of AstonRep’s finer productions. Staged with a stylized nod to the dramas of ancient Greece, director Robert Tobin has artfully guided his actors in finding their own personal moments in this classically influenced drama. Dialect coach Kendra Kingsbury’s fine work teaching her actors the Scottish accent is evident. Standout performances are turned in by Amy Kasper and Jeff Brown as the anguished American couple, in Lockerbie seven years later for a memorial service. Ms. Kasper brings resentment and hate to the inconsolable Madeline Livingston, while Mr. Brown, as her grieving husband Bill, shows a desperate man’s bewilderment when his patience has reached the breaking point.
Ray Kasper has the difficult role of being the unwilling antagonist in this story. His portrayal of George Jones, whose hands are tied by the government, offers moments of sympathy as a man helplessly caught within a bureaucratic system. Stellar performances are delivered by Alexandra Bennett as Olive, the Women’s spokesperson, and Sara Pavlak McGuire brings a vibrant earnestness and honesty to young Hattie. Morgan Manasa, Barbara Button and Lorraine Freund, actresses who bring maturity and depth to their ensemble roles, are truly excellent as the Greek Chorus of Scottish ladies. Hayley Rice, however, doesn’t quite blend in with the others. She tends to be shrill and strident, often becoming overly melodramatic as one of the Lockerbie women.
Jeremiah Barr’s simple, stark but effective scenic design is inspired by the 11,000 articles of clothing that were found scattered everywhere in Lockerbie. He creates a multileveled playing area that’s reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, but covered with all manner of distressed fabric. Dresses, shirts, pants and other pieces even hang in the air, as if they’re still falling to the earth. It’s an incredible and particularly disturbing visual image for this play.
Deborah Brevoort’s play is an ode to ancient Greek drama. It’s an 85-minute requiem for all the innocent lives lost in what’s been called the deadliest terror attack and aviation disaster on British soil. It’s also a tribute to the surviving families, both those of the lost passengers and of the people of Lockerbie. There’s very little humor to break the somber mood of this poetic one-act, and the sweep of emotions found in this production fills the soul with a darkness that’s hard to shake. But the journey is well worth the trip as we all end together, gathered at the river, to scrub clean the sorrow and wash away the sins.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented April 7-May 8 by AstonRep Theatre Company at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-828-9129 or by going to www.astonrep.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com