Life is mirroring art, which is mirroring life, in Her Requiem, the ambitious new play by Greg Pierce. Directed by Kate Whoriskey in an LCT3 production at the Claire Tow Theatre, this familial drama address the thrilling excitement surrounding the birth of art, as well as the cost of that thrill.
Pierce’s play, stayed on Derek McLane’s rustic living room set, follows a family that is shaken to its core by its teenage daughter Caitlin (Naian González Norvind), a musical prodigy who has taken a year off from high school to compose a requiem. Her mother, Allison (Mare Winningham) is unsettled by this decision, while her father, Dean (Peter Friedman), is more than enthusiastic. We learn that Caitlin is working with Tommy (Robbie Collier Sublett), who used to be her violin teacher and is now serving as her mentor and who speaks reverently about her work to Dean, referring to the composition as “miraculous,” among other things.
This cozy family set up is not as peaceful as it might seem; Dean’s enthusiasm, which seems to be bordering on obsession, with Caitlin’s work seems to be credited to the fact that he his own life boasts few accomplishments, and the projects he has attempted were funded with his wife’s money. Allison, who works as a teacher, is struggling to care for her own ailing mother (Joyce Van Patten, very good), while she senses her increasingly remote daughter slipping further away from her. Winningham and Friedman are excellently paired; their interactions are affectionate and poignant as the drift between them broadens.
And then there are the Goths living in their barn. Allison’s taking a year off from school comes with the stipulation that she publish blog posts about her work, along with short clips of her music. Her presence on the internet attracts fans who travel to their home to be in the presence of the composition – to Dean’s delight and Allison’s misgivings. (The “liaison” of the guests is played by Kelly McQuail in an excellent and humorous performance.) They don’t want to meet Allison, as that would spoil the purity of what her work means to them. They just want to be there while she works.
Her Requiem addresses various intriguing ideas: the idealization thrust onto artists; parents projecting their ambition onto their children; whether admiration can translate into love or vice versa; but the execution of these ideas lacks coherence at times. The subplot about the grandmother is irrelevant to the story, as are the addled nursery rhymes she exuberantly recites. But what attracted this critic’s notice the most was the troubling nature of Caitlin and Tommy’s relationship.
Caitlin is portrayed as a frail and delicate genius. Norvind is a slender young girl with curly hair, and she is dressed by Jessica Pabst in oversized clothing that emphasizes her slender figure. And her character is 17 years old, while Tommy is clearly an adult. The fact that the two embarked on a sexual relationship is never verbalized, and the fact that she is pregnant is only stated while Tommy details their plans to move to Ireland and raise a family together. Further complicating the matter, Tommy is introduced as a religious man who had attended seminary school, but he never expresses any qualms about the pre-marital sex he and Caitlin have engaged in. Caitlin’s ambivalence about their plans is clear, as well as her uncertainty about being a mother. While they converse, Tommy does mention that she will be 18 soon, but the words “statutory rape” are not used, and neither is the word “abortion.” Why the reluctance to include those word in the a script that is hyper-articulate about the nature of musical composition, art and death??
While the discussions involving Caitlin’s composition are fluid and fluent in classical music terminology, the discussions about her and Tommy’s relationship and its consequences are stilted and uncertain. This could be a deliberate choice, demonstrating the gap between the art and the humanity in these relationships, but that is not made clear and the reticence about Caitlin’s pregnancy seems to belong in another play from decades ago. Further emphasizing this disparity, when Caitlin does confide in her father about her circumstances, the scene is wordless. Tommy himself is a confusing character, and Sublett portrays him as a respectful and courteous young man who won’t even finish a beer with Dean when he has to drive home. But he does not appear conflicted at all about Caitlin which lessens any sympathy that might have been inspired for his own confusion.
At the conclusion of the play, Caitlin’s requiem is completed, but the audience only hears the first chords. It seems an appropriate metaphor for this play which, with a few rewrites and sharpened focus, could be quite excellent.