The personal aftermath of tragedy illuminates Pygmalion Productions’ “Women of Lockerbie,” a play that finds warmth and dark humor in the bonds formed by grieving American and Scottish women.
New Jersey playwright Deborah Brevoort’s rich tragedy is loosely based on the 1988 terrorist bombing of Pan-Am 103 that crashed over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all 259 people on the plane and 11 on the ground. The bomb exploded 38 minutes after takeoff, on a flight from London headed to New York City.
“Women of Lockerbie” draws upon a real-life response to tragedy, when 38 Scottish women took part in a laundry project, washing thousands of articles of clothing strewn from the plane and gathered as evidence to return to the families of the crash victims.
The play is Greek in form and Celtic in spirit, said Fran Pruyn, who is directing the Pygmalion show. In honor of the laundry project, Pygmalion will collect clothing donations for the Salt Lake City YWCA at each show during the run.
“It’s about loss, grief and community,” Pruyn said. “It’s dark, but not depressing.” Or as a Facebook page devoted to “Lockerbie” productions describes the story: “A contemporary Greek tragedy about the triumph of love over hatred.”
The script draws upon the forms found in Greek drama — odes, choruses and dialogues — to unfold a contemporary story about loss. “When you let go of naturalism, it allows for there to be a different level of truth not bound by details,” said Kent Hadfield, who plays a New Jersey father whose only son died in the plane crash.
The play focuses on what happens when Bill drags his wife, Madeline (Dee-Dee Darby-Duffin), to Lockerbie for a vigil seven years after their son’s death. She’s still crazy from grief, which causes her to roam the hills seeking remnants of her son, perhaps an article of clothing or maybe a body part, such as bits of his jawbone.
The couple meet local women, including Olive Allison (Stacy Rae Allen), whose empathy is drawn from her own suffering. Olive leads a group of local women who are fighting a U.S. government official, George Jones (Lane Richins), in their quest to wash and return the victims’ clothing to their families. After an investigation, the government plans to burn the clothing and destroy other remnants of the wreckage, hoping to avoid headlines and an international scandal.
“What’s really interesting is she’s so selfish in her grief,” Darby-Duffin said of Madeline, her character. “She can’t understand that anyone else would be suffering. And she is so American.”
The story explores that political stereotype, of Americans expressing their grief so externally, while the Scottish appear to grieve in more practical ways. In the play, “Celtic women keen their losses, it’s primal, but also grounding, that sense of survival,” Pruyn said. She referred to the archetype of the banshee, who in Scottish folklore is termed a “Beansidhe,” or washer of the shrouds, known as one who wails.
Brevoort’s play, which won the Kennedy Center Fund of New American Plays award, premiered in 2003. The show received its Lockerbie premiere in 2006, when 19 of the 38 women who participated in the laundry project attended the production and responded positively to the play, Brevoort said in an email interview.
In recent years, “Lockerbie” has somehow gone viral, receiving 350 productions in nine countries, and has been translated into seven languages, the playwright said.
“Young people seem to be driving the interest in the play,” Brevoort said. “They tell me it speaks to them as the post-9/11 generation and that the women of Lockerbie give them some direction in how to respond to terrorism. They also love that it is theatrical instead of ‘realism.’ They say that if they want realism they will watch TV, but in the theater they want style and odes and other theatrical stuff. Which warms my playwright’s heart.”
The play has been taught at more than 100 colleges and universities, possibly because there are lots of roles for female actors and it’s an accessible text for use in Intro to Greek Tragedy courses, Brevoort said.
At recent press interviews, Salt Lake City actors mused that the story might be too dark for friends who have recently lost loved ones. But the story’s catharsis might be the point. The play allows the audience to grieve publicly, which is something the Greeks did in their public forums, Hadfield says.
Allen said she draws comfort from one of her character’s lines: “The dark valley rises to a mountain where the sun shines bright.”
‘The Women of Lockerbie’
P Pygmalion Productions presents playwright Deborah Brevoort’s contemporary Greek- and Celtic-influenced drama about grieving families overcoming hatred, a story loosely based on the terrorist bombing of Pan Am 103 in 1988.
When • March 6-22; 7:30 p.m. Thursday; 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center’s Black Box theater, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $20 ($15 students; $25 day of show); at 801-355-2787, arttix.org or pygmalionproductions.org.
Special • Tickets to “Women of Lockerbie” and the company’s upcoming “Motherhood Out Loud” (which runs May 1-17) are $25, only at pygmalionproductions.org.
Clothing drive • To honor the service provided by women of Lockerbie after the plane crash, Pygmalion is seeking clothing donations for the YWCA during each show. The nonprofit is seeking new and lightly worn clothing for women, children and teenage boys, says Amberlie Phillips, chief development officer.