By Thomas Stubbs, Contributor
“Okay, that’s all, thank you,” declares Sam Nelson, Stage Manager for the Furman Theater’s latest production, Deborah Brevoort’s “Women of Lockerbie.” He surveys the crew heads gathered around him on the Playhouse mainstage, a bemused look on his face. “This is our last production meeting,” he says. It’s Nov. 3.
“Women of Lockerbie” opened Nov. 9 at 8:00 p.m. The show will continue through Nov. 12 and next week from Nov. 17 to 19 at 8:00 p.m. Matinee shows are Nov. 13 and Nov. 20 at 2:00 p.m. For the last month, the company has been hard at work putting the show together. While members of the cast have refined their performances through nightly rehearsals, teams of student designers, technicians and craftsmen have been erecting sets, sewing costumes, hanging stage lights and locking in sound cues. During that Nov. 3 run, the production was at a crossroads. This was the last chance the actors had to spot-work troublesome scenes before the task of integrating the show’s technical aspects into their performances.
None of this troubled Director Jayce Tromsness. He sat, relaxed, in a chair that would soon be occupied by an audience member, chatting easily with Technical Director Alan Bryson. Tromsness is a guest artist at Furman — he teaches theater at the Governor’s School in Greenville — and directing “Women of Lockerbie” has been a pleasant experience for him.
“I’ve never worked with a group of young people as competent as these folks,”said Tromsness. “They know exactly what to do.”
It’s 7:00 p.m.: time for rehearsal to begin. The cast also sits in the audience, waiting for Tromsness to call them to the stage for spot work. They are not in costume; those are optional at this point in the rehearsal process, with one exception: everyone wears their character shoes.
“Women of Lockerbie” takes place seven years after Pan American Flight 103 crashed into the little Scottish town of the title, killing all 243 on board and 11 people on the ground. The government’s investigation is finally over, but the characters we meet have yet to find peace. There is a group of local women who want to wash the clothes of the victims and return them to the families, and an American couple who have not gotten past the death of their son.
It’s heavy stuff, to be sure, but the actors dive right in, fearlessly embracing the tragedy of their characters, expressing crippling grief, sorrow and fear with fiery authenticity. Then they do it again. And again. And again. The actors’ ability to immerse themselves in their characters virtually on demand never ceased to amaze me during that rehearsal. Time and time again, they play a scene beautifully and powerfully — tearing me away from my feverish note-taking, forcing us to watch, transfixed — only for Tromsness to stop the scene, suggest a small change, then run it back to the start. Time and time again, they rise to the occasion, never once allowing fatigue or complacency to set in. When the scene has been played to everyone’s satisfaction, the actors casually return to their seats, awaiting the next call to bare their souls the way you and I await an open check-out lane at Walmart.
Sal Donzella’s character has the first line of the first scene to be spot worked this evening. He begins: “Everyone in Lockerbie…”
Tromsness stops him. “You’re doing that thing,” he says, referring to an unconscious kink in the actor’s gait. Donzella smiles and backs up to start the scene again, complaining genially about an issue that could only ever trouble an actor: “I’m thinking about walking too much.”
After three hours of this, even I was exhausted; I can only imagine how the performers felt. There was just one scene left to rehearse: the moment when that bereaved couple finally finds peace. The ancient Greeks called this moment “catharsis.” The scene’s placement at the very end of the rehearsal was not accidental. It seemed to me that everyone present needed some catharsis in their lives. Thankfully, we got it. During the first run of that scene, a blooper occurred that caused the whole theater to erupt with laughter. They got it right on the next try, but enough residual joy was present to end the rehearsal on a happy note. As I left the theater, I recalled a moment earlier that night when Tromsness explained to the cast that there’s a lot of laughter to be wrung from despair.
“That’s what gives this play such impact,” Tromsness said. “It understands that in our worst moments, some of the funniest things can happen.”
The Furman theatre production is open to the public. Tickets are $10 for students, $15 for seniors and $18 for adults.