Regional Reviews: Albuquerque/Santa Fe
The Women of Lockerbie
Also see Rob's recent review of Clue
Just after 7 o'clock that same evening, a small incendiary device hidden inside an audio cassette tape in a suitcase buried deep in the belly of a Boeing 747 detonated.
Pan Am Flight 103, en route from London to New York at a height of 30,000 feet, airborne for just 20 minutes, exploded midair over Lockerbie. Wreckage, some with passengers still attached, fell for roughly 2-1/2 minutes before slamming at 120 miles per hour into homes, fields and gardens in the village below. All those aboard perished, from either the explosion or the impact. A fuel-laden wing plowed into Sherwood Crescent, gouging a massive channel before igniting 21 homes, killing 11 people, four from one family.
The Adobe Theatre's presentation of Deborah Brevoort's The Women of Lockerbie is a beautiful, compassionate production. You will try not to cry. But you will, as did all the patrons on opening night. The worst part is knowing tears are the only gift you can give to survivors of this cruel and deliberate act.
The Women of Lockerbie, though somewhat poorly written, slaps us in the face that news reports relate to real people, ordinary people, reminding us we have no right to assume ourselves so favored by the gods as to be forever protected from disaster.
None of the usual criteria relating to crime applied to Lockerbie. There was nothing to indicate it was to become the site of the largest criminal investigation ever held in the United Kingdom and, except for 9/11, also the United States. Unlikely as it sounds, bodies rained down on that cold December night, and nothing can ever be the same.
Skillfully directed by Pete Parkin, we meet four local women, the resilient yet frail backbone of the now oft-forgotten village, a visiting American couple whose only child–a boy barely out of his teens–died in the explosion and whose body (like 17 real-life victims) vaporized, and one other American, employed by U.S. Department of Defense, living in Lockerbie for the seven years following the disaster.
Parkin does an excellent job with this imbalanced script. He is helped in no small part by a lineup of exceptional actors, who collectively and individually breathe a strange, almost ethereal life into what otherwise would have been a trite, predictable script saved only by flashes of unexpectedly thoughtful, mature insight.
In approximately ninety minutes with no intermission, this production opens to a group of women walking silently to the riverbank to gather strewn bloodied clothing. They leave, the silence broken only by the soft trickling of the river. From beyond, we hear the loud yet almost lifeless voice of American Bill Livingston calling for his wife Madeline. As he appears, still calling, he is met by Olive, a kindly, lively resident–Lockerbie born and bred–who tells him Madeline is still roaming the hills and valleys looking for any remains of her now long-dead son Adam.
Olive listens as Bill tells of bringing his wife to the last known place Adam existed, in the hope it will somehow help assuage her terrible grief, and perhaps lift the depression she surrendered to since the boy's death. This story runs parallel with the tale of how the women, and not just the women we meet, unite and fight the directive sent from the U.S. to destroy the items remaining from the bombing, now stored in a local warehouse–items referred to as evidence by the Americans, but the women, on a higher plane, know these to be the final remains of the dead, and therefore priceless to their forever heartbroken families.
When Madeline appears, she is alternately sad and angry, lashing out at her husband and raging against the injustice of everything and everyone. Though undoubtedly a figure deserving of sympathy, Madeline has great potential to be unlikeable. Stephanie Jones does a good job navigating her character away from the edge of this precipice, almost toppling, but artfully never losing her balance completely.
In contrast, Bill Livingston truly is a tragic figure, and Phillip J. Shortell is perfect in his portrayal. I have yet to encounter any role Shortell plays that he isn't perfect in, but this is a particularly difficult piece, the script often falling far short of the appalling circumstances. It is to Shortell's credit this dilemma is barely detectable–he skillfully reconstructs the cliched, shopworn characteristics into a genuinely passionate persona, one we quickly come to care deeply for as he struggles with his own grief, buried so long ago.
From the onset, Olive presents as a woman of compassion and strength. Her obvious love for the locale and the community lends an atmosphere of virtual guardianship to her role, and Lorri Layle Oliver delivers, with an impeccable Scottish accent. Throughout much of the play, Olive proclaims the need for forgiveness and acceptance, encouraging the same in others. As changes occur, her protective shell crumbles, and we witness how doubts regarding her long-held beliefs threaten to shatter her. Oliver is well cast in this role, her transformation graceful and effective.
Supporting actors, Stephen Higgins as George Jones, the play's antagonist Laurie McFarland, and Denielle Fisher Johnson as Woman One and Woman Two, who serve as a Greek chorus, and finally Hattie, played by Stephanie Grilo, who provides a little comic relief as the cleaning lady in addition to being the herald, play their parts well. One thing I don't understand is why Hattie on many occasions purports to be old, when Grilo looks to be about 25 years of age.
The set, a simple backdrop of faded rolling hills bracketed by bleak leafless trees, embodies the mood, allowing the centerpiece, an actual trickling stream, to dominate the stage. Black pallets and dark walkways complete the desolate landscape, with only the banks of the cold rocky brook providing relief. Kudos to scenic artist and creator Lorri Layle Oliver.
Costumes by Louisa O' Neill are perfect for the setting, as is lighting by Petifoger. Shout out to Ricky Fox, stage manager, ably assisted by assistant stage manager and props designer Cynthia Thompson–well done acquiring the large evidence bag.
Go and see this play. It is so much more than what it is on the surface, and what it seems. The unwarranted kindness shown even in the face of unimaginable grief is a powerful reminder of who we are and who we can become. This message will resonate long after the tears have dried.
The Women of Lockerbie runs through September 25, 2022, at The Adobe Theater, 9813 4th Street NW, Albuquerque NM. Friday and Saturday evenings performances start at 7:30 p..m, Sundays at 2:00 p.m. General admission $20, discount $17 (seniors, students, ATG/PBS Members, military, first responders) and PWYW Thursday, September 22nd at 7:30 p.m. For information and tickets, please visit www.adobetheater.org.