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Review: HER REQUIEM, A Highbrow Variation of the Stage Mother Scenario

Playgoers recalling Peter Friedman playing a domineering father who takes his daughters out of school so they can save the family from financial ruin by writing music in THE SHAGGS may feel a certain déjà vu watching the fine actor playing out a similar scenario in Greg Pierce's new drama, Her Requiem.

Mare Winningham and Peter Friedman
(Photo: Jeremy Daniel?)

In designer Derek McLane's warm and homespun rural Vermont cabin home, Friedman plays Dean, an unsuccessful entrepreneur who, upon learning that his 17-year-old daughter Caitlin (Naian Gonzalez Norvind) has musical prodigy potential, arranges to have her removed from high school so that she may spend the year composing a requiem.

His new-found obsession with the musical form that he believes could lead to fame and fortune has him becoming an amateur expert on the history of requiems and taking on Caitlin's agreed-upon responsibility of writing a blog chronicling her progress.

Apparently, his writing is good enough to attract a legion of groupies, a mix of goths and environmentalists represented by the black-clad Mirtis Paima (Keilly McQuail).

Dean's sensible wife, Allison (terrific Mare Winningham), has enough on her hands dealing with her mother's (Joyce Van Patten) declining mental facilities. She's been uncomfortable from the start with Dean allowing 30-something music teacher Tommy (Robbie Collier Sublett), a former seminarian who calls her daughter's work "miraculous," to stay long hours alone with Caitlin in her bedroom (it would be useful for the playwright to have someone mention Vermont's age of consent), but now Dean has allowed Mirtis and her cohorts to set up a commune in their barn.

Robbie Collier Sublett and Naian Gonzalez Norvind
(Photo: Jeremy Daniel?)

With Caitlin spending most of the play off-stage in her room, the play's best explored relationship is that of her parents. The lovely home, and the money used to support this venture, come from Allison's side of the marriage and one gets the sense that this isn't the first somewhat untraditional scheme of Dean's she's put up with. She wants to be supportive of her husband's dreams, but this time it seems to be getting in the way of her relationship with her daughter. Multiple meanings of the title, Her Requiem, are to be considered.

The play's world premiere is given a solid production by director Kate Whoriskey, but Pierce's promising text could use some consistency of tone. The play seems somewhat satirical at first, particularly when Mirtis gets involved, which undercuts the moments of discomforting reality between the introverted Caitlin and the emotionally immature Tommy, who may or may not be aware of his predatory manipulations.

A highbrow variation of the old stage-mother scenario, Her Requiem has some interesting ideas that haven't quite coalesced yet, but with Winningham and Friedman at the center, the 90-minute piece certainly intrigues.

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