Florida State College at Jacksonville (FSCJ) presented a four performance run of Deborah Brevoort’s The Women of Lockerbie from November 18 – 21 at the Wilson Center.
Knowledgeable theatre people who are familiar with Director Ken McCulough, Professor of Theatre at FSCJ, know that he often brings cutting edge plays to the stage, with his students playing the characters. The Women of Lockerbie is such a play.
Lockerbie is a small town in Scotland where, on December 21, 1988, a Pan AM flight enroute from London to New York was blown up by a terrorist’s bomb. The 259 people on the plane died, as did 11 of residents of the small town.
The play begins seven years later. Bill Livingston (Steven Carter) and his wife Madeline (Chlöe Campbell) have come to the site where their 20 year old son died during the destruction of the airplane. Mrs. Livingston has been in a state of constant grief since the loss of her child. Husband Bill hopes his memorial service will help his wife move on with her life. As Madeline searches the area trying to find some part of her son, they meet several women from the town, who experienced the crash from the ground.
The women are trying to get the American government to release all the clothing of the victims. The bits and pieces that were found were collected and kept in a warehouse in Lockerbie. The US Government plans to destroy all the remnants by burning. The women want to wash the clothing and return it to the families to provide closure.
One of the principal characters is Olive Allison (Soontaree Simms), a Scot who, as we later learn, lost her daughter and husband when they were struck by parts falling from the plane. She hates Americans because she views their policies and actions as having provoked the attack, and like Madeline has yet to resolve her inner feelings.
Thaddeus Walker is George Jones, a US government official, who is seemingly unfeeling, and just wants this assignment over so he can move on to something more glamorous. The final character who is identified by name is Hattie (Julia Fallon), a woman hired as a cleaning lady by the US official. Hattie’s ingenuity provides a way to finally get the clothing released to the women.
Seven other women are The Women of Lockerbie, who lived through the tragedy. The playwright’s intent was to structure the play as a Greek Tragedy, and the women therefore function as a chorus. They describe their experience, and this was one of the most interesting parts of the play. One woman told of her roof being torn off and finding 71 bodies in her living room still strapped in their seats. Others talked of finding body parts, legs, hands, in their yards and gardens.
The final scene in this play of 90 minutes (no intermission) occurs at a stream in the hills with all the woman washing the clothing of the victims.
The seven women were played by Michelle Balkcom, Natalie Bogart, Kelsey Clifford, Lauren Eitzenberger, Alice Fay, Heather Mullins, and Phalecia Rumsey.
The Scottish accents used by the actors were excellent. The performances by all of the named principals were exceptional. To single out each individual excellence would merely restate the cast list.
The costumes by the Costume Crew were consistent with staging as a Greek Tragedy. The women wore long skirts, long coats, and caps, all in muted dark colors. Madeline and Olive both wore black.
This proved to be an interesting theatrical experience. The set design included large rock ledges that represented the hills above Lockerbie, with a wide lighted blue expanse for the stream bed. When we entered and picked up our tickets, we were encouraged to sit in the balcony of the Wilson Center because the stream would not be visible downstairs. We choose to sit downstairs in the third row anyway, for two reasons; one auditory and one visual. We could hear better there. And I thought it would be disconcerting to be an actor in a play and to look out and see rows and rows of empty seats. Actually it worked out well, and we could see the faces of the woman while washing and the clothing when they held it up.
It appeared that both the audience and the cast responded to this play very emotionally, as we noted some who were moved to tears.
The program provided some interesting background on the crash. A Libyan intelligence officer and head of security for Libyan Arab Airlines was convicted of the crime and given a life sentence. In 2009 he developed terminal prostate cancer and reportedly had three months to live. Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill approved his release on compassionate grounds. His release was protested by many, who found it particularly distasteful that he was hailed as a hero when he returned to Libya. Although ill, he remains alive.
The Women of Lockerbie is a thought provoking theatre piece, innovative in structure and staging, and very moving in every way. We appreciate FSCJ Drama Works for bringing this work to our community.