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THEATER REVIEW

Grief, rage and love in `Lockerbie'

March 02, 2007|Philip Brandes | Special to The Times

The 1988 bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, has all but faded into the bloodless abstraction of a diplomatic bargaining chip in U.S.-Libyan relations. With "The Women of Lockerbie," the Actors' Gang recaptures the emotional weight of that watershed terrorist attack through the visceral immediacy of first-rate live performance.

Marrying the structural austerity of classical Greek tragedy with the timely feel of docudrama, playwright Deborah Brevoort's fictionalized meditation on the bombing's aftermath was inspired by a real-life act of hauntingly simple generosity by Lockerbie's female residents. Determined to "give love to those who have suffered, so evil will not triumph," they washed all the clothes recovered from the victims and returned them to the grieving families (it took a year to clean more than 11,000 garments).

Brent Hinkley's stark, stylized staging gives elegant shape to this drama set seven years after the crash, as anguish smolders unabated in relatives of the passengers and residents crushed by falling debris.

Passengers' families are personified in a New Jersey couple visiting Lockerbie on a desperate quest for closure over their son. Kate Mulligan and Silas Weir Mitchell bring archetypal shades of grief to the inconsolable mother and her husband, who's had to stay numb just to muddle through.

They learn something about compassion and stoic endurance from a local widow (superb Mary Eileen O'Donnell), who's spearheading a daunting effort to wrest the collected clothing from the U.S. State Department official trying to bring the crash investigation to a speedy close (Robert Shampain, infusing as much humanity as the icy stereotyped role permits). Patti Tippo lightens the spirits as the bureaucrat's sly Scottish cleaning woman, who hits on an ingenious winning stratagem.

These perfectly shaded performances animate narrative details that tear the heart with specificity. (How do you return your dead son's Christmas present to the perky salesgirl with red and green ribbons in her hair?)

Miraculously, amid unimaginable grief and rage these characters find a way for love to heal -- not through sentimentality but by heroic determination.

*

`The Women of Lockerbie'

Where: Actors' Gang at Ivy Substation, 9070 Venice Blvd., Culver City

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays

Ends: April 2

Price: $25

Contact: (310) 838-4264, www.theactorsgang.com

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes

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