Susan Angelo, left, and Ellen Geer in "The Women of Lockerbie"… (Ian Flanders )
In December 1988, the residents of a small Scottish town hosted unusual guests: dozens of corpses that lay for days in streets, fields and gardens until investigators could process them as forensic evidence. The dead were the victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing that claimed 259 passengers and crew, as well as 11 people on the ground.
Deborah Brevroot wrote her tribute to “The Women of Lockerbie,” now onstage at Theatricum Botanicum, eight years before 9/11. Despite its sentimentality, the play reminds us that it takes a very long time to process the effect of terror.
Inspired by true events, “Lockerbie” depicts the extraordinary efforts of the town’s women to wash 11,000 pieces of clothing from the plane’s wreckage as both a practical and symbolic act of cleansing. While a U.S. government official (Blake Edwards) refuses to release the clothes, the Scots, led by Olive (Ellen Geer) and Hattie (Katherine Griffith), fight back with the best modern weapon: the media.
Melora Marshall’s production uses traditional Scottish music and instruments to atmospheric effect. But there’s not much the director can do about the playwright’s ham-fisted storytelling. Instead of trusting her subject matter to speak for itself, Brevroot can’t resist sanctimonious commentary. (“Grief needs to talk” “Grief is a guest who stays too long”).
One might add that grief — like good theater — is specific. By that measure, the heart of the production is Susan Angelo’s performance as a bereaved mother who wanders the hills in search of her son, killed on his way home for Christmas. In her grounded anguish, Angelo becomes any woman, anywhere in the world, who has lost a child through violence. Her love is raw, and real.
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“The Women of Lockerbie” Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga. See website for performance schedule. Ends Sept. 29. $20-$33. Contact: (310) 455-3723 or www.theatricum.com Running time: 80 minutes.