As affecting as hearing about the death of someone can be, the reaction doesn't scale up properly. Large numbers of dead draw attention to the numbers rather than to the individuals. Playwright Deborah Brevoort looked at the 1988 Pan Am Flight 103 bombing, shook her head, and reduced the tragedy to its effect on one family and one town in The Women of Lockerbie, being staged by Roger Williams University Theatre (through November 22).
Planned in Libya in retaliation for American military actions, the bombing took the lives of all 259 people onboard and 11 on the ground in the southern Scotland town. Brevoort didn't take on the challenge of writing about the incident until she saw a 1997 documentary about the Lockerbie laundry project. That involved women of the town washing the bloodstained clothing of the victims, which had been in storage for years, to return the items to the families.
The play focuses on the parents of one of the victims, who have traveled to Lockerbie to participate in a vigil on the seventh anniversary of the incident. Bill Livingston (Jesse Trimbach) has never fully grieved over the death of his 20-year-old son, Adam. He has been too busy trying to calm his wife Madeline (Mandie Hittleman), who has been in constant tears. Their friends back home have stopped calling or visiting. Being in Scotland, at the site of the crash, apparently has driven her mad, as she wanders the hills shouting her son's name and searching for evidence of him. Other parents had bodies returned to them, but he was too near the explosion. "The sky wasn't meant to be a burial ground," Madeline insists. "It's too big."
Since this is being presented as a tragedy, three townswoman serve as a Greek chorus (Stacey Mendyka, Elizabeth Before, and Rebecca Murphy), consoling and advising the couple. More directly helping them is Olive Allison (Amanda Jenkins), another woman of the town. She is the main person talking to Bill, drawing him out, since his wife is too absorbed in her own pain to communicate much beyond that. Madeline is choked with rage and self-pity. She was making a pie when news of the explosion interrupted her soap opera (All My Children, in which a character was considering having an abortion, no less). "I live in New Jersey," she sputters. "I have two cars in the driveway. This was not supposed to happen to me." Death visits briefly, the chorus agrees, but grief stays forever. But the chorus mainly offers truisms and bromides, such as that awful events are part of a divine plan "so that we may learn and grow." That notion angers the father, who points out that this would mean his son died so that he could learn a lesson.
Halfway through, we meet George Jones (Brendon MacIntosh), a US State Department attachû in charge of the remains of Pan Am 103. The wreckage and the 11,000 pieces of clothing are stored in a vast warehouse. The most vivid writing in this play is a description by the townswomen of walking through that space, being dwarfed by the twisted metal and struck by the overcompensating orderliness, with even the seatback trays stacked high.