I have a personal connection to the terrorist bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, which killed all 259 passengers and 11 residents of the tiny village of Lockerbie, Scotland on Dec. 21, 1988. One-hundred-ninety Americans perished, many of them college students returning home for Christmas.

As a private detective, I was hired by attorneys representing the families of victims to locate and serve a subpoena to the former head of security at Frankfurt Airport. After I found him, he became a key witness in a case that awarded millions to the families.

‘The Women of Lockerbie’ dress rehearsal at Concordia University

This is one reason I was drawn to see The Women of Lockerbie, at Concordia University. My niece, Bridget, accompanied me because she’s studying Lockerbie in her International Law class. Investigating Lockerbie, or studying it, didn’t prepare us for the powerful immediacy of the play. It’s based on true events and shows how the women of Lockerbie heal themselves and the grieving families, by washing the victims’ clothes and returning them to their loved ones. 

The play is performed in the intimate surroundings of Concordia’s Bergmann Theater. The seven cast members are in close proximity to the audience. They portray four women from the village, a grieving couple from New Jersey, and an American State Department official. The simple set evokes a Scottish hillside with a brook flowing down it. Fog and soft lighting add even more to the play’s mournful atmosphere. 

The play was written in the form of a Greek tragedy, but the dialogue is modern. Director Brian Fruits noted it contains elements of female empowerment, spirituality and forgiveness. Brian is a longtime friend of Andrew Pederson, who heads Concordia’s Theater Department. Andrew’s thesis adviser, Deborah Brevoort, wrote the play. It has been widely popular and there have been 850 productions to date.

It’s a gut-wrenching mix of anger, grief and frustration, sprinkled with some moments of light humor. It’s tragic and uplifting at the same time. The cast members rehearsed 3-4 times a week for a month. The heavy material left them emotionally spent after each rehearsal. 

Amazingly enough, four of the cast members are freshmen who had never performed on stage before. To add to the difficulty, they delivered their lines using a Scottish dialect. But they acted like seasoned pros, performing the 80-minute play without a flub, while expressing the rawest of emotions. 

‘The Women of Lockerbie’ dress rehearsal at Concordia Universit

They play fictional characters but succeed in bringing them to life. The grieving parents from New Jersey are searching for any trace of their son, who had perished seven years earlier. The women of Lockerbie try to comfort them but have their own grief to overcome. Grief often turns to anger and the play contains scenes of conflict and despair. If all this sounds like a downer, it’s not. It’s ultimately about redemption.

The explosion at 30,000 feet rained fire on Lockerbie. It also rained debris over an 845-square-mile area, the largest crime scene in the world. Some of this wreckage destroyed houses in the village and killed innocent people going about their business.The villagers were also traumatized by the carnage they saw. 

Investigators determined the suitcase containing the bomb had passed undetected through Frankfurt Airport. The unaccompanied suitcase was loaded onto Pan Am 103 at Heathrow Airport. A Libyan terrorist named Ali al-Megrahi was convicted of the crime. 

The play shows how we can respond to unspeakable tragedy with forgiveness and simple acts of kindness. 

The cast and crew at Concordia show how love can triumph over grief.

The three remaining performances are Feb. 25 and 26 at 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 27 at 2 p.m. Admission is free and masks are required.

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.