Theater review: 'Women of Lockerbie' elevates a contemporary disaster with poetry and power

Published March 7, 2014 2:27 pm
Stage • Pygmalion's production has the feel of Greek tragedy.
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A production's setting sometimes instantly transports you to a play's time and place. This is the case with Pygmalion Productions' staging of "The Women of Lockerbie," which just opened at the Rose Wagner.

John Wayne Cook's set, Jesse Portillo's lights and Mikal Troy Klee's soundscape coalesce to endow a dark, lonely, barren world with a haunting, almost mythic, feel. We are in a large open area with just a few rocks and benches and a backdrop of clouds and hills. The lighting is moody and blue, and all we hear is the plaintive sound of the wind, pierced by a voice calling a name. Surely something ominous is about to happen.

But the ominous event has already occurred.

Seven years before, Pan Am Flight 103 crashed at this site, shattered by a terrorist bomb, and bodies rained from the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, pulling its residents into a circle of grief and loss. Now an American mother and father have returned to find any trace of their lost son. As Greer, one of the Scottish women they meet, says, "All she has is the sky where he vanished."

Madeleine (Dee-Dee Darby Duffin) and Bill (Kent Hadfield) are locked into their own circle. She can do nothing but grieve, and he has yet to confront his feelings. She resents his apparent apathy; he is frustrated by her inability to move beyond her loss.

On this "blasted heath," as Shakespeare would describe it, they encounter a trio of Scottish women — Greer (Marylynn Alldredge Ehrengard), Fiona (Daisy Blake Perry) and Olive (Stacey Rae Allen) — who are the antithesis of "Macbeth's" three witches. The women pull Madeleine into their community, and together they embark on a journey to ritualistically exorcise their grief and heal it.

To do that, they intend to turn evil into love by washing the thousands of pieces of clothing left from the crash and returning them to the victims' families. The clothes are the center of a controversy with Mr. Jones (Lane Richins), an American State Department official sent to destroy them.

The power of "The Women of Lockerbie" comes not from its story but the way it is told. The three Scottish women echo a chorus from Greek tragedy as they reflect on living with the aftermath of the crash, keeping faith alive in a broken world with its seemingly random disasters, and trusting in the power of love to overcome hatred.

In one of the play's loveliest moments, they kneel in a pool of golden light and reflect on order and purpose in the universe while Greer sings a lament. And Hattie (Vicki Pugmire), Jones' feisty housekeeping assistant, functions first as comic relief and then as Greek messenger as she recounts what happens when the women storm the warehouse containing the contested clothing.

Deborah Brevoort's poetic text and the patterned flow of Fran Pruyn's direction turn what could easily become a depressing story into a celebration of the resilience of the human spirit.

The performances also energize and illuminate the story. Darby Duffin and Hadfield inject depth and variety into the essentially one-note characters of Madeleine and Bill. Ehrengard, Perry and Allen deftly individualize the three Scottish women — philosophical Greer, optimistic Fiona and empathetic Olive — and blend harmoniously as a group. Richins' Jones is appropriately arrogant and self-serving, and Pugmire's Hattie is entertaining and eloquent. Michael Nielson's homespun capes and jackets capture the cold of the Scottish winter.

It is difficult to describe "The Women of Lockerbie." What is clear is that it creates a unique place where love and forgiveness can vanquish destruction and hatred. —

"The Women of Lockerbie"

Pygmalion's "The Women of Lockerbie" eloquently extracts mythic meaning and a legacy of love from the crash of Pan Am Flight 103.

When • Reviewed on March 6; continues Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 22, with an extra matinee on March 22 at 2 p.m.

Where • Leona Wagner Black Box Theatre at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. Broadway, Salt Lake City.

Running time • 80 minutes (no intermission)

Tickets • $20 in advance; $25 day of the show with discounts for students. Call 355-ARTS or visit http://www.arttix.org for tickets and http://www.pygmalionproductions.org for information. Pygmalion is collecting clothing for the YWCA in conjunction with the production.



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