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New Jersey by Bob Rendell

The Trojan Women of Lockerbie

Also see Bob's review of Chicago

The Women of Lockerbie
Margery Shaw, Alice Connorton
top: Al Mohrmann, Corinne Edgerly

As we were driving to Long Branch to see the New Jersey Repertory production of Deborah Brevoort's pre 9/11 The Women of Lockerbie, my wife and I were listening to a CD of Brevoort's family Christmas oratorio, King Island Christmas. I derive much pleasure from its lovely musical and choral singing as well as the sweetness of the story. It tells of the determined efforts against all odds of the devoted citizens of a fishing community on an Alaskan island to bring ashore a boat carrying their priest and all the goods needed for their traditional celebration of Christmas in the face of an early, severe winter storm. My wife was not buying. "Saccharine and clichéd," said she. I had to admit that she had a point. A child was advised to celebrate the "beautiful gift of trouble" because it gives you the chance: "to stick together and see the problem through"; "to remember all the things that are precious to you"; and "to find and uncover powerful things hidden inside of you." And soon would come song after song about how love and faith solves all problems ("It's love that climbed the mountain/ It's love that pulled them through/ It's love that told them/ Nothing was impossible to do.") "But it's a Christmas oratorio with comforting messages for children," I offered in defense.

Imagine how I felt when it turned out that The Women of Lockerbie, an award winning play about how these women "try to cope with the aftermath of the tragic plane crash, while a family from New Jersey joins them in an effort to get closure on their loss," turned out to be largely written in similar clichés. I couldn't write fast enough to keep up with them, but I can share a few to give you the picture.

"These things are given us for a reason. No one is given more than he can bear."/ "You must believe behind the suffering of the world, there is a reason for everything."/"Grief needs to talk."/ "you can't reason with grief, it has no ears to hear ya."/ "when evil comes into the world, it is our job to change it into love."

The time is 1995, seven years after a Pan Am flight was blown up over the Scottish town of Lockerbie, resulting in 270 deaths, including 11 locals killed on the ground and 189 Americans on board. A middle-aged American couple present for a commemoration ceremony is in the nearby hills as the grief maddened wife searches for the remains of her 21-year-old son who was killed in the crash. A Scottish "Greek chorus" of three old choristers is trying to get possession of the clothes of the victims in order to wash, press and return them to the victim's families before the oafish, bureaucratic American representative has them incinerated. They try to offer solace to the American couple. In the end, the clothes are saved, and the American couple find the beginning of recovery from their grief by joining the others in washing the clothes in a mountain stream. As the play ended with the actors dunking clothes in robotic, rhythmic unison, I felt a combination of agony because of the lamentable quality of the play and bubbling-up laughter over its inanity.

The sing-song Greek chorus and the American wife never remotely resemble real human beings, in manner of performance or in the words with which they are saddled. Al Mohrmann, consistently one of the finest actors regularly appearing on New Jersey stages, manages to escape with his dignity intact. Mohrmann is fortunate enough to have a character who expresses skepticism before Brevoort has his character descend into the prevailing bathos. Director Jason King Jones emphasizes the play's weaknesses.

In her amateurish way, Brevoort has a character drop a bombshell line that is totally out of character and unbelievably nonsensical in the context of this situation. When the American woman holds on to her grief after chorister #1 has been lovingly trying to help her for more than an hour, said chorister turns on her, informing the American that she lost her husband and daughter on the ground; she says that "a plane full of Americans fell from the sky and killed all that I love. You started it by bombing an Iranian aircraft ...."

Having dropped her bombshell, Brevoort (and chorister #1) back off and never engage the issue. This is not the place to go into the merits of the unproven, but not implausible, theory that the bombing was in revenge for our downing of an Iranian airliner. However, without giving the statement any context, Brevoort leaves hanging in the air the rancid notion of moral equivalency between a tragic accidental bombing of a civilian aircraft and an international conspiracy of intolerant religious fanatics who have repeatedly targeted and murdered thousands upon thousands of civilians from the Pacific Rim to the World Trade Center, and continue to seek to do so. Does any rational person believe that if we went to the extreme of disarming and adapted a national policy of pacifism the 2000-year-old war between Islam and Christianity would end bloodlessly?

The above paragraph addresses a brief but pernicious part of this one act, eighty or so minute play. However, sympathy for Brevoort's politics and morality may account for the inability of some to recognize her horrendous dramaturgy.

It would be unfair not to praise the exceptional scenic design of Jo Winiarski. His Scottish mountainside setting complete with mountain stream is rich and detailed, most playable, and makes exceptional use of NJ Reps limited stage.

There is a regrettable lack of depth and quality in Deborah Brevoort’s writings with which I am familiar (she also authored the recently reviewed The Poetry of Pizza) that undermine her positions and make her plays feel exploitative. Not on the night that I attended Lockerbie , but since then, I have again listened to King Island Christmas. I still find it a delightful journey. Unfortunately, the bromides that can suffice in a family Christmas show (especially when supported by David Friedman’s music) are lame when offered in a play that is intended to be taken seriously.

The Women of Lockerbie continues performances through April 30, 2006 (Thurs.-Sat. 8 p.m./ Selected Sat. 4 p.m./ Sun. 2 p.m.) at the New Jersey Repertory Company (Lumia Theatre), 179 Broadway, Long Branch, NJ 07740; Box Office: 732-229-3166; online: www.njrep.org.

The Women of Lockerbie by Deborah Brevoort; directed by Jason King Jones

Cast
Madeline Livingston………….Marnie Andrews
Bill Livingston……………………Al Mohrmann
Olive Allison…………………Corinne Edgerly
Woman 1…………………….Alice Connorton
Woman 2………………………..Margary Shaw
Hattie…………………………...Michele Tauber
George Jones………………………...David Volin


Photo: SuzAnne Barabas


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- Bob Rendell



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