It never fails. The minute you sit down to compose a Requiem Mass, Mom and Dad get on your case and perfect strangers show up on the lawn to keep a death watch. That’s the peculiar premise of “Her Requiem,” Greg Pierce’s well-written but ineffectual play about a teenage wunderkind whose miraculous musical genius turns her home life upside-down and inspires a morbid death cult.
Lincoln Center Theater has been very supportive about showcasing new plays by emerging playwrights with its LCT3 programming. This handsome production, meticulously helmed by Kate Whoriskey (“Ruined”), is no exception.
Set designer Derek McLane’s contribution is the warmly inviting home in Vermont (quilts everywhere) where 17-year-old Caitlin (Naian Gonzalez Norvind) lives with her obsessively involved father, Dean (Peter Friedman), and her anxious mother, Allison (Mare Winningham). Other design elements, of equally high standards, include an impressive sound design (by Joshua Schmidt) for presenting finished sections of Caitlin’s requiem.
The first-rate cast also includes the eminent Joyce Van Patten as Caitlin’s grandmother and Robbie Collier Sublett as her music tutor, the only person she’ll allow into the bedroom where she’s composing her grand opus. Keilly McQuail infuses even more life into this unsettled household as the leader of a group of Goths (more than 30, at last count) who have taken up residence in the barn to await the birth of Caitlin’s morbid masterpiece.
But after introducing the characters and giving us some background on how everyone got here (Dean attracted the Goths through the blog he’s keeping about his daughter’s progress), the playwright seems at a loss. The question of whether Caitlin will ever finish her great work is never in serious doubt. Nor does anything come from the revelation that her tutor is also her lover. And since Gram makes no contribution whatsoever, we hardly miss her when she goes into a nursing home.
The only tension in the air is between Caitlin’s warring parents, who at least argue with intelligence and some eloquence. Dean is far too indulgent of his daughter, to the point of giving her permission to seclude herself in her room to work day and night. (He’s a loathesome character, and kudos to Friedman for refusing to hide it.) Winningham’s sweet-tempered Allison is far more likable as she worries herself sick about her daughter’s health. But as parents, they’re both a disgrace.
Which raises the question: could this play be an extended metaphor for a writer who might create an earth-shattering work of art if his/her aggravating parents would just leave him/her alone?