Playwright Deborah Brevoort brings the pain of bombings from all over the world into stark clarity by focusing on a single tragedy — the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 101 over Lockerbie, Scotland. In the detailing of agonizing grief, “The Women of Lockerbie” becomes a stunning display of raw emotion, a powerhouse drama whose evocation of unthinkable loss and a path to a sort of redemption is a masterful and cathartic experience.
Seven years after the Lockerbie tragedy, married American couple Madeline (Kate Mulligan) and Bill (Silas Weir Mitchell), parents of one of the bombing victims, have traveled to Lockerbie to participate in a memorial ceremony. Madeline, almost insane in the intensity of her grief, takes this opportunity to go wandering the Scottish hillsides, looking for anything remaining of her son. The long-suffering Bill, accompanied by several of the local women, keeps an eye on her, helpless to stem her endless sorrow. When one of the locals, Olive (Mary Eileen O’Donnell), formulates a plan to retrieve the clothes of the deceased and wash them, however, a pathway to healing is opened.
Mulligan is electric as Madeline, a woman whose grief has turned her into a vengeful wraith. Her depth of feeling is a visceral thing, an armor Madeline wears to keep out the world. It’s a commanding, surprisingly physical piece of acting.
Mitchell offers a quieter take as a man simply trying to move on with his life, but his howl of released misery at the play’s conclusion is perhaps the most affecting moment in the entire show. O’Donnell, Terri Lynn Harris and Anna Sommer are very effective as the Greek chorus of Lockerbie women, particularly when they are describing their characters’ experiences of the plane crashing into their town.
Director Brent Hinkley does a superb job staging the show, but his real triumph is in the constant emotional reality created by his cast. Sibyl Wickersheimer’s set consists largely of a black hillside that slopes upward toward the back wall of the theater, an impressive construction that evokes the sense of hills and a blank space for the emotions of this play to take center stage. John Zalewski’s sound design subtly (and sometimes bluntly) bolsters the drama, and dialect coach Adele Cabot makes sure the Scottish accents are realistic and not broadly twee mimicry.