Women of Lockerbie explores the aftermath of a catastrophe

Oct 18, 2019

MARION — A mother who does nothing but weep for grief over her son, who died in a terrorist attack, and father who has felt grief in other ways but not cried. A community of women who want to, in a gesture of kindness, get and wash the clothing of the victims, while still dealing with their own losses. All these characters take the stage in “The Women of Lockerbie,” which opened at the Marion Art Center on Oct. 18. 

The historic attack occurred on Pan Am Flight 103 on Dec. 21 1988, when a bomb went off in the luggage compartment of the plane as it was flying over Lockerbie, Scotland. The bomb killed all 259 people on the plane, and large chunks of falling debris also killed 11 people on the ground. Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi later claimed responsibility for the attack. 

In the play, Bill and Madeline Livingston travel to Lockerbie, Scotland on the seven year anniversary of losing their 20-year-old son, Adam, on a flight back from Scotland. Madeline is inconsolable, leaving the memorial service to search the hills for her son’s remains, convinced that she would know him even from a chin bone. 

Meanwhile, the women of Lockerbie recount the experience of finding rows of passengers in their living rooms, picking body parts out of gardens and, in some cases, losing family members as the plane crashed. 

Amid the grieving is a conflict with a callous American bureaucrat, George Jones, who has been ordered to clean up the situation as quickly as possible and wants to burn the victims’ clothes rather than release them to the women of Lockerbie. 

The play explores the power of choices, whether tragedies happen for a reason, and the sometimes thin line between love and hate. Though the subject matter is undoubtedly heavy, there are also a few moments of comedic relief, such as a cleaning maid who mops the grass to listen in and pretends she can’t read to avoid accusations of spying. 

Though the subject matter is dark, Marion’s Kate Fishman was drawn to it because it is “such a powerful story. We hear on the news about terrorist attacks on a regular basis. When this happened, it shocked the world and put the world on notice. It has become the new normal, but we need to remember when it was truly shocking,” said Fishman.

Margo Ruggiero, who plays Madeline, says the play describes the communal experience of loss very well, and that it is somewhat cathartic. She was touched by the standing ovation the audience gave on the first night. 

For actor Jacob Sherburne, who lives in Mattapoisett, the play was a way to process a more personal grief. “My wife and I had a loss in life recently, and Kate Fishman sent me the script. It’s perfect for right now. It’s not about wallowing in grief, it’s about thinking in a logical way,” said Sherburne, who plays Bill. 

Fishman heads up the Marion Art Center Theater Committee, and frequently directs shows at the Art Center. Though she started as an actor in her 40s, she has since moved into directing shows. Getting back on stage let her remember “what my actors go through, as much as what the characters do.” 

The play will run Oct. 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 27 at 2 p.m. Purchase tickets online at: http://www.marionartcenter.org/events/women-of-lockerbie/.