March 2, 2016

"Her Requiem" Lacks Harmonic Structure

Most parents want their children to have a better life than they did. But a few want to better their own lives by living through their kids. That latter group is the one that interests playwright Greg Pierce in Her Requiem, the new family drama that opened last week at LCT3's Claire Tow Theater.

The "her" in its title is Caitlin, a 17-year-old who is a music prodigy. The requiem is the ambitious composition she is so devoted to completing that she has persuaded her parents to let her take a year off from school and seclude herself in her bedroom, even occasionally forgoing meals, to write it.

Caitlin's mother Allison worries that her daughter is too young to be focusing so intently on a song for the dead but she's also preoccupied with caring for her own mother who is slipping into dementia (the condition with which young playwrights are constantly afflicting any female character over 60).

But Caitlin's dad Dean, who has never realized any of his own dreams and lives on his wife's family money, becomes obsessed with the girl's project and goes along with all of Caitlin's demands, including her isolating dependence on the young former seminarian who is her musical mentor. "If I can't do something great, I may as well clear the path for Caitlin," Dean tells Allison.

Dean even begins writing a blog in which he assumes Caitlin's voice to talk about the making and the meaning of the piece and includes snippets of the music she reluctantly shares with him. He is delighted when the blog goes viral and attracts a following of young people who make a pilgrimage to the family's Vermont home, take up residence in their barn and hold a vigil of support for Caitlin as she struggles to complete her opus.

Some of this is improbable, not to mention a little melodramatic, but director Kate Whoriskey has put together an elegant production. I wanted to move right into the comfortable home that set designer Derek McLane has created for the family. And the casting couldn't be better.

The invaluable Peter Friedman gives a typically nuanced performance, showing all the complex emotions— love, fear, parental pride and personal disappointment—that motivate Dean's need to believe his child is a genius whose achievements will bring glory to them both.

His performance is equaled by Mare Winningham's sympathetic Allison. Friedman and Winningham have worked together before and there's an authentic connection between them as their characters debate what's best for their daughter and for their marriage (click here to read an interview with the actors).

Also very good and providing some deadpan humor is Keilly McQuail, as a young Goth girl who is the leader of the vigil and yet, the most emotionally grounded person in the play.

Two incidents—one inside the house and one outside—propel the play to its climax. Caitlin does eventually leave her room and we do ultimately hear the opening chords of her requiem. Dean is forced to confront the results of his doings and the problem about what to do with the addled grandmother gets resolved too. 

But it's all a little too much for a 90-minute play. Her Requiem is ambitious but it both overpromises and underperforms.

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