Friday, March 19, 2004

Fine cast of 'Lockerbie'
overcomes tragic script

By Jackie Demaline
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Peggy Crosgrave
Peggy Cosgrave adds comic relief in her role as a cleaning lady in Women of Lockerbie.
(Leigh Patton photo)
A strong cast meets the challenges of a weak script and wins the night in The Women of Lockerbie at Ensemble Theatre, a drama about the aftermath of a terrorist act that wraps itself in the trappings of Greek tragedy without mustering the Ancients' power.

On the seventh anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 (Dec. 21, 1995), Bill and Madeline Livingston come to mourn the loss of their only son in the hills around Lockerbie, Scotland, where Madeline obsessively searches for some remains - and some closure.

Bill (Tony Hoty) has had a hard time grieving; Madeline (Amy Warner) is a would-be modern-day Electra who embraces the unremitting fury of her grief.

Warner gives it her all, but a fine performance is undone by playwright Deborah Brevoort, who keeps her offstage too much, diminishing the potency of her sacrifice and the play's spine. Despite Warner's best efforts, Madeline comes off as a whiny American whose pain is greater than everyone else's because it's hers.

Into their lives come the women of Lockerbie, eager to share and ease their pain. Olive (Kate Wilford) is the leader, Sherman Fracher and Annie Fitzpatrick act as chorus, Peggy Cosgrave is comic relief as a cleaning lady who works for a stiff-rumped American bureaucrat (Greg Procaccino, doing some of his best work in years.)

The women are wonderful, even as they spout the most stilted palliatives: "When evil comes into the world, it's the job of the witness to turn it into love." "You can't reason with grief, it has no ear to hear you." "Memory is a heavy burden - it's a sack you can't set down." "If the sun never set, we'd find no beauty in the sunrise."

The fact that the women triumph over this kind of dialogue shows just how good they are. They're great listeners, too, important since there aren't many conversations in Lockerbie. Again, in the spirit of the Greeks, most of the time characters declaim in long stretches of monologue. It's a play that couldn't hold our attention a moment longer than its 90 intermissionless minutes.

Director D. Lynn Meyers shows a clear understanding of the playwright's intent and an affinity for the material, and Lockerbie is saved not just by the admirable performances, but by a collection of nice moments that she coaxes to life despite the script.

The drama plays out on a series of ramps, standing in for a steep trail, with a stack of whitewashed suitcases, carry-ons, overnight bags rising behind the playing area, a giant grave marker for lost lives.

It's a dramatic design by Brian Mehring, with the footpath carpeted with items of clothing (the women are committed to a Laundry Project that will return the passengers' clothes to their survivors) and a waterfalling stream contained in acrylic and cutting through the center of the diagonal ramps. (The only problem is that on opening night not all the cast members always remembered to hop the "stream.")

In the Greek tragic tradition, when it's time for the story to end Brevoort writes in a deus ex machina - that would be an act of the gods that makes everything conveniently come right.

Lockerbie is an interesting theatrical experiment, but Brevoort is no match for Sophocles or Euripides. Both this fine cast deserves a play more worthy of them.

The Women of Lockerbie, through April 4, Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati, 421-3555.


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