Tuesday, July 03, 2012

The Women of Lockerbie

a play by Deborah Brevoort
directed by Melora Marshall
presented by Theatricum Botanicum

review by Phillip Kelly

A bit of synchronicity occurred the night of my seeing The Women of Lockerbie. I had shown up to Theatricum to sit on their grounds and do a bit of writing before the production, as it's a lovely place to lose one's thoughts. Instead of working on something specific, I did just that, let my mind roam on the page. It mainly stuck to the ideas of art and love and what can happen if you don't make use of them. Lockerbie is a beautifully written piece of art about love and what happens when the aftermath of an evil action and the ensuing grief takes hold of it. It's a haunting piece, profound in it's simplicity and ultimately beautiful and touching. Brevoort's words are poetic and cut to the heart of the matter with wisdom and finesse.

The matter at hand is the terrorist attack on the Pan Am plane over Lockerbie, Scotland on December 21st, 1988 and the grief that continues to follow the families and the inhabitants of Lockerbie seven years later. Bill Livingston (Thad Geer) has brought his wife Madeleine (Susan Angelo) back to Lockerbie on the anniversary of the crash. Their twenty year-old son died aboard the plane and Madeleine's grief carries her over the foggy hills looking for any sign of his remains. Meanwhile, an American Government official, George Jones (Blake Edwards) has come back to Lockerbie to burn the clothing of the deceased. The articles have been bagged and locked up in a hangar with the remains of the airplane crash for 7 years and his job is to tie up all loose ends, but the women of Lockerbie represented by Olive (Ellen Geer), Hattie (Katherine Griffith), Woman 1 (Elizabeth Tobias) and Woman 2 (Victoria Hilyard), many of whom lost family as the carnage rained down upon them and who saw the death first hand, won't allow it. They have something else in mind, and they'll be damned if they give up the fight so easily. All of these characters have been affected differently by the event.

It took a few minutes for the production to find its feet for me, only because I couldn't get a bead on how the character of Bill Livingston felt. He's the first on the stage and the first to set the tone. Mr. Geer has one of the more difficult characters to play in the show and is put into one of the more difficult situations an actor can be put in. To play a character that chooses not show his emotions. When do you show? When do you not show? How do you show what emotions you have so as not to confuse the audience? Because while you're hiding your true emotions, other ones might sneak out unexpectedly. How do you carry your body and interact with people having hidden how you truly feel about something for seven years? At what point do you show, so that the arch of the character feels natural and not forced? So that those eventual emotions are cathartic and not manipulative to the audience. There should always be something at work under the passivity, and I didn't always see it. The choices felt a little muddy at first, but soon found focus once he has Ms. Angelo to play off of. She grounds the show in a definite emotion, with a startling first act monologue, and brings out those things I was happy to see from Mr. Geer, and his performance flourishes.

Angelo, as the grieving Mother, is haunting and heartbreaking. She however faces a challenge on the opposite end of the spectrum, playing grief. Something female leads have faced from the Greek tragedies to Shakespeare. I can safely say nobody wants to hear a female character wail for an hour and a half. Marshall had the sense to not allow this, and I'm sure Angelo would have been opposed as well. But again, how long do you keep that going? Madeleine is crazy with grief. People don't change on a dime. They need something to incite the change. Brevroot hasn't given a specific moment for this to happen and the tendency for lesser actors would be to play these scenes at an emotional "ten" every time they step on stage. Just when you think the trajectory may head that way, it doesn't and quiet moments are found. This being said, I would have liked to have seen a few more of those intimate moments up front; a quiet intensity, which can be difficult in a space as big as Theatricum's. But when this group chose those moments, and they most assuredly did, it's a beautiful thing to watch.

The four women of Lockerbie are a hoot. Ms. Geer plays Olive with a fire and playfulness that wins you over immediately. Katherine Griffith is delightful as George Jones' cleverer-than-she-appears cleaning lady. Victoria and Elizabeth bring a wisdom, sadness and eventual hope to their characters - they almost feel like chorus, tying together many of the emotional themes through pieces of precise and perfectly timed bon mots. Blake Edwards is also thoroughly enjoyable and perfectly cast as the young American government official. His throw away lines are golden.

Marshall starts and ends the show with some beautifully sung folk songs and the Theatricum space is perfect for the show, which Marshall has used to to its advantage. The cast wanders up and down the hillsides, shouting back and forth at each other. You get a real sense of space and depth and being lost with these characters on the hillsides of Scotland. Lost in their grief, sadness, anger and found again in their eventual cleansing. It's a journey that is as simple as a couple of steps, but feels like it's taken you miles by the end. It makes for a wonderful night at the theatre, that had me tearing up in the end.

The Women of Lockerbie written by Deborah Brevoort, Directed by Melora Marshall
June 30th-September 29th
Playing in rep with Measure for Measure, Heartbreak House and A Midsummer Night's Dream
Where: The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, 1419 N. Topanga Canyon Blvd, Topanga CA, 90290
(midway between the Pacific Coast Highway and the Ventura Freeway, on the West side of the street.)
For tickets and show: 310-455-3723, www.theatricum.com
Dress casually (warmly for evenings) and bring cushions for bench seating. Snacks are available at the Hamlet Hut and picknickers are welcome before and after the performance.

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