Sunday, April 10, 2016

AstonRep's Excellent 'Women of Lockerbie' Expresses the Power of Goodness Amid Unspeakable Grief -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

The Women of Lockerbie
by Deborah Brevoort
Directed by Robert Tobin
AstonRep Theatre Co.
at Raven Theatre Complex, Chicago
Thru May 8

Like anyone with a soul, I am horrified, saddened and angered whenever I hear of anyone being murdered, whether in a domestic dispute, on the streets of Chicago or in any other awful way.

Massacres, such as those recently in Brussels, Ankara, Lahore and elsewhere, only heighten the shock, anguish and outrage, although the sheer proliferation of such incidents demands a certain degree of numbness in the name of emotional self-preservation.

While I have felt great sympathy and sorrow for victims of senseless violence, it is perhaps because I haven't had a personal connection to anyone who has been killed, and am not myself a parent, that I probably haven't given ample thought to the depth of devastation survivors must face--and how and when parents, spouses, children, siblings, friends, relatives, etc., can move forward with anything passing for normalcy.

Deborah Brevoort's powerful play, The Women of Lockerbie, written about the aftermath of the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103--which took 270 lives including 11 residents of the Scottish town where it fell--provides a mournful but enlightening glimpse into the grieving, and coping, process.

And under the fine direction of Robert Tobin, the new production by AstonRep--which has become one of my favorite Chicago storefront-type troupes in recent years--deftly presents the sorrow from several perspectives, yet avoids becoming maudlin, mawkish or overwhelming.

The 75-minute one-act, which premiered Off-Broadway in 2003 after winning a New Play award shortly after 9/11, takes place seven years after a bomb detonated aboard Flight 103.

With the investigation over, Bill and Maddie Livingston visit the Lockerbie crash site for the first time; their 20-year-old son Adam was among the victims (fictionally representing one of the 35 Syracuse University students who perished upon flying home on Christmas break from studying abroad in London).

Played poignantly by Amy Kasper, Maddie is still very much dealing with acute grief and anger. As the play opens, she is roaming the Scottish hills desperately looking for any remnants of Adam's existence, while Bill (played with dextrous aplomb by Jeff Brown) tries to calm her with the help of some women of Lockerbie.

The women, some of whom lost loved ones in the tragedy, all of whom were forever devastated by the carnage they witnessed, have decided to put their time and emotions to washing the 11,000 garments strewn from the plane now that they no longer need to be warehoused. To whatever extent possible, they hope to return the victims' clothing to their survivors.

The Livingstons' turmoil remains front and center, but Brevoort (who notes in the program she wrote 25 drafts of The Women of Lockerbie "before getting it right"), does a nice job in taking us beyond their pain--and recriminations for how each other shows it--by portraying the townsfolk with considerable grace. 

Also woven in is a rather heartless American diplomat (played by Ray Kasper) who aims to deny the women their laundering, a young local woman (Sara Pavlak McGuire) who serves as his assistant while being at odds, various recollections of the tragic day and a reference to the United States' downing of Iran Air Flight 655 in July 1988, which some believe prompted the December 21 terrorist attack on Flight 103.

All of the cast's Women of Lockerbie do excellent jobs, especially in adopting Scottish brogues that feel authentic without ever challenging comprehension.

Foremost among them, as Olive, is AstonRep ensemble member Alexandra Bennett, who I found superb in Wit a couple years ago.

As I told director Tobin afterwards, I feel he did a really great job calibrating the somber tonality of the material without leaving one too disconsolate to appreciate the play as insightful entertainment.

This parallels the characters' commitment to--though challenging--letting love and goodness be the best way to combat evil. As voiced by The Women of Lockerbie--and printed on the front of the program, so I'm not really spoiling anything--"Hatred will not have the last word."

There were a few times in the play when I wasn't sure why characters were speaking toward the horizon--and hence, directly at the audience--when it seemed they were in conversation with others onstage. I understand this sort of solitary vocalizing wouldn't be so atypical, particular when one is so wrought, but sometimes it felt the 4th wall was being broken unnecessarily, or a tad too often.

And for all that's superlative about Brevoort's script, Tobin's staging and the actors' performance, there isn't much surprise in what unfolds.

But these are very minor critiques and while it is hard to call The Women of Lockerbie an "enjoyable" play given its subject matter, it is quite a formidable and illuminating one.

With tickets just $20 through the box office and discounted on HotTix throughout the run, a terrific afternoon or evening of theater should well be within your reach.

Along with, perhaps, a better understanding of the human condition, at both its most broken and its most beautiful.

No comments: