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Her Requiem: Theater review by David Cote
Contrived and gently pretentious, Greg Pierce’s Her Requiem is the Off Broadway equivalent of a New Yorker short story (an improvement, I suppose, on all the new plays that seem like Netflix auditions). Characters are improbably glib yet earnest; moral stakes are real but unfrightening; the tone is bittersweet puzzlement. In other words, it could be 4,000 words squeezed between the report on solar panels in Kurdistan and Anthony Lane cracking wise at the multiplex.
The play maps overlapping arcs of obsession and possessiveness: Teenage Caitlin (Naian González Norvind) has taken a year off school to write a requiem, apparently not intimidated by past masters Mozart, Verdi and Brahms. Caitlin’s father, Dean (Peter Friedman), encouraged by her composition tutor Tommy (Robbie Collier Sublett), starts to believe that his child has near-miraculous artistic powers. Dean’s single-minded focus on Caitlin’s opus alarms his dubious wife, Allison (Mare Winningham), she burdened with caring for a dying mother (Joyce Van Patten). Halfway through, Goth gal Mirtis (Keilly McQuail, gawkily droll) shows up, the first of several dozen strangers who, enchanted by clips of Caitlin’s music online, have made a pilgrimage to her doorstep in Vermont.
Pierce raises several questions over 90 minutes, few of which he answers to satisfaction. Has Caitlin got any real talent? How credible is the notion of a mini-cult sparked by MIDI files on a website? Do we really need Van Patten’s character telling us—an hour in—that Dean is a loser? Her Requiem seems a plot-down sort of affair: The author got his big idea first, then retro-fitted characters into a series of unlikely occurrences. Still, there is a final revelation he handles with nice understatement: If requiems are for the dead, for whom is Caitlin’s? You know that after the blackout, one little death will knit up prevailing themes of creation and exploitation.
Kate Whoriskey stages the cozy, interior scenes with intelligence and sensitivity and the design is excellent (although Jessica Pabst dresses Sublett a bit too urban hipster when she might have gone dorky New Englander). The acting is strong, with Friedman and Winningham—two of New York’s finest character actors—touchingly torn between protecting their child and their marriage. Friedman has been down this path before in The Shaggs: Philosophy of the World, as a New Hampshire patriarch convinced that his daughters are destined to be pop stars. Then, as now, the actor combines an easy, masculine toughness with boyish impetuosity. Even if the script’s music falls flat, Friedman can sound deep notes of pathos and hope.—David Cote
Claire Tow Theater (Off Broadway). By Greg Pierce. Directed by Kate Whoriskey. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission.
Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote