June 4, 2020

The Miracle of the Women of Lockerbie



The Miracle of the Women of Lockerbie

The women of Lockerbie, Scotland, portrayed by (l-r)Victoria Hilyard, Ellen Geer and Elizabeth Tobias, tell the story of 200 women who fought the U.S. goverment for the right to wash and return the clothes of the victims to their bereaved families. The “Laundry Project” took a year to complete.

Pan Am Flight 103, 21 December 1988. A transatlantic flight from London to New York, named the “Clipper Maid of the Seas” was destroyed by a bomb detonated over Lockerbie, Scotland and all 243 passengers, 16 crew members and 11 people on the ground were killed. Sections of the plane fell on the town of Lockerbie, destroying houses and causing the death toll to rise to 270. The bombing was done by terrorists who were unknown until 2001.

The Women of Lockerbie is inspired by the female heart of the true story of the crash of Pan Am flight 103, which the playwright Deborah Brevoort describes as “the American and Scottish women whose lives had been devastated in different ways.” She explains that these women “witnessed evil and felt an emotional need and a moral responsibility to ‘get love out of it.’”

The staging of The Women of Lockerbie at Topanga’s Theatricum Botanicum is an important step towards understanding, as well as healing in this difficult age of airport checks, homeland security, terrorist threats, bombings and water-boarding.

Instead of anger or revenge, the play advocates understanding and working through grief, as well as trying to reach out to fellow human beings, no matter what country or government is involved. Its very text is a tribute to the power of love: “Hate is love that has been hurt.”

The Miracle of the Women of Lockerbie

Blake Edwards plays George Jones, a U.S. State Dept. representative who has arranged for the victims’ clothing, 11.000 pieces, to be burned. Katherine Griffith, as his local assistant and cleaning woman has other ideas.

The performance opens with traditional Scottish music. A troupe of rustic Lockerbie townspeople sing, with flute, guitar and harmonium accompaniment, “Why should I sit and sigh?” and “You take the high road and I’ll take the low road and I’ll be in Scotland a-fore yea..., On the Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond.”

The setting of the play is the small town of Lockerbie and it is the Winter Solstice, seven years after the plane crash. There is a church vigil and many American families have returned to say goodbye as they seek closure.

Among the mourners are Mrs. Livingstone (Susan Angelo), an over-wrought mother who lost her 20-year-old son, Adam, in the crash and has not stopped grieving. With her is her husband (Thad Geer) who never grieved. What Mrs. Livingstone wants is one artifact or certain knowledge of her son’s death.

She searches the mountains of Lockerbie for any remains of her son’s body. She wants just a jawbone, a lock of hair, or a tangible article that would convince her of his death.

Olive Allison (Ellen Geer), a thoughtful and strong-minded local woman, remarks, “All she has is the sky for a burial space.”

Mr. Livingstone observes tiredly, “She’s been grieving for seven years!” Olive quickly admonishes him, “You cannot reason with grief; it has no ears to hear ya” and continues with more soulful advice, “grief needs to talk.” A group of women summarize in agreement that “Grief is a guest who does not leave.”

Due to the seven-year anniversary, the U.S. government has sent a nervous George Jones (Blake Edwards) as a representative to close out the investigation. His tasks include burning 11,000 articles of clothing and artifacts from the accident. Hattie (Katherine Griffith) is his cleaning woman and local assistant in his task at maintaining the warehouse of plane parts and other evidence.

Upon hearing of the plan to burn the clothing, the Lockerbie women decide to rescue the garments, many of which are badly soiled with blood and even body parts from the crash. The townswomen want to launder and return each article of clothing to the rightful owners, the families of the terrorism victims, claiming “When evil comes into the world, it is the job of the witnesses to turn evil into good.”

Supremely directed by Melora Marshall (with an eye for small directorial touches such as effective use of the minimal stage design), the play packs a wallop of emotions, tight and sincere that evoked not a dry eye in the house at its conclusion.

The outstanding performance of Ellen Geer as Olive Allison is the cement and the strength that holds the play together. Her acting drives not only the action, but the heart and soul of the message home to the audience. As a grieving widow and mother, she is solid, believable and absolutely unshakable.

A key moment is her exchange with a hysterical, crying Mrs. Livingstone who accuses Allison of not knowing about the pain of a loss. Allison spins around on a dime and the audience hears for the first time about her own personal loss. This strikes a muscular chord and is the turning point of the play.

Also notable are Katherine Griffith as Hattie, not only serving for comic relief but a dose of reality in that indefinable essence that Hattie brings to the table as a strong instigator for the loving act of taking the victims’ clothing and for inspiring 200 women to take action; Elizabeth Tobias, as Women One, whose gestures and facial expressions truly punctuate each scene she is in, an unquestionable master of the physical gesture, knowing when to dip and when to wink, possessing the ability to be utterly present for every moment she is on stage.

“These women show us a way out from the terrible after-effects of terror,” says Brevoort, who clarifies that the play “is about people who refuse to be broken, about how helping others is a way out of sorrow.”

The Women of Lockerbie runs through Sept. 29, at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd., Topanga, CA 90290. For more information of tickets: (310) 455-3723; theatricum.com. Tickets are $33 (lower tier); $20 (upper tier); seniors, students, Equity: $20/$18; children 7-12: $10, under 6, Free. Picnickers are welcome before and after shows. Snacks are available at the Hamlet Hut.

The audience is advised to dress warmly in layers (since summer evenings can get chilly). Bring blankets and pillows for bench seating. The performance runs 60 minutes without intermission.