GREG PIERCE AND KATE WHORISKEY
Author and Director of HER REQUIEM
In conversation with LCT3 Associate, Natasha Sinha
Natasha Sinha (LCT3 Associate): Now that LCT3’s world premiere production of Greg Pierce’s HER REQUIEM has opened, let’s talk about how it’s coming to life through Kate Whoriskey’s beautiful direction. Kate, for HER REQUIEM, what did you want to emphasize in the physical production?
Kate Whoriskey (Director): I wanted to create an interior of a Vermont home that would be welcoming to the audience.
NS: Absolutely! Derek McLane’s set (with Amith Chandrashaker’s warm lighting) is so inviting. Many people (myself included) have said they want to live in that house.
KW: As the play developed, I wanted to manifest the feeling of claustrophobia— as we watch a family living through a cold, New England winter together. Also, Derek and I wanted to suggest that we were in a unit set so that a particular scene would be a surprise...
NS: Greg, do you adjust your thinking of a play once it’s in its first production, with costumed actors on a fully designed set?
Greg Pierce (Playwright): While writing a play, I pretty much design it in my head. It has to feel like real people moving through real spaces. The thing is, I'm a poor designer. So early in rehearsals if designers ask me about what I was envisioning, I usually stay pretty quiet because I know the production will end up looking and sounding way better if we go with their instincts. In terms of adjusting my thinking when I see things in front of me, a lot of the designers’ work happens gradually, which means little-by-little my own bad design ideas fall away until I've forgot about them. Trust me, that’s for the best.
NS: Kate, what do you start focusing on once you have the resources to fully figure them out? How do you tell the story through these design elements onstage?
KW: There were two major developments that happened in the tech process. The first was learning about the stage. It is a wider space than I had anticipated, so in the first week in tech, we worked through the play, making decisions about sightlines. I came to realize that each seat tells a slightly different story. I was happy not to give the same story to every audience member but to give a slightly different story to each seat. Some people could see into the kitchen and some people got to see the exterior of the bedroom. I thought this supported Greg's material.
The second development was about the transitions. We learned how long it took to get from one set to the other. And then we were able to tailor silent moments that both supported the text and helped us bridge one moment to the other.
NS: Our sound designer, Josh Schmidt, is of course an accomplished composer in his own right. What did he bring to the table in terms of finding the right requiem moments and transition moods?
KW: Josh was an extraordinary resource. He has a wide knowledge base of all of the music mentioned in the play and was adept at providing options as the play transformed. He also was able to compose the last moment of the play beautifully.
GP: Josh has a truly remarkable ear and a vast knowledge of music in lots of genres. Plus he's written a requiem, so he knows the form inside and out. Finding the right transition music for HER REQUIEM was a little bit of a logic puzzle because we wanted to give a sense of how requiems from different eras sound different, and to give some examples of the various movements of a requiem, but most importantly to find music that's emotionally appropriate for a particular moment in the story. So Josh brought an awful lot to the table.
NS: Leading this fantastic cast are Mare Winningham and Peter Friedman, who are two great stage actors of new work. They worked together on AFTER THE REVOLUTION a few years ago, so they knew each other going into this process. How did their existing familiarity and friendship play into their lead roles as Caitlin’s parents in HER REQUIEM? Their relationship goes through a lot from beginning to end.
KW: Mare and Peter are two of our great stage actors. Their friendship allows them a shorthand and trust, and the marriage shared between Dean and Allison is nuanced and beautifully articulated.
GP: From the first reading, Mare and Peter were so naturally a Vermont couple who’d been married for years and were at a tricky point in their relationship. Maybe it was helpful that they’d done Amy Herzog’s play together—I’m not sure. They’re both such genuine, extraordinary actors. I think initially they just listened to each other and followed their guts, and that set the dynamic off in a really exciting direction. One of the greatest things about this experience (and there have been lots) has been watching Peter and Mare build and refine each moment. They’re out there every night giving these performances that feel so real that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that these interactions are painstakingly crafted by a couple of true masters.
NS: And Joyce Van Patten is hilarious in a small part. How do you view Gram’s role and Joyce’s performance, and how does it add to the family and the play? Those are some of my favorite moments and I find them meaningful while also very funny.
GP: The role of Gram was written for Joyce. In addition to being a good friend, Joyce has been one of my favorite actors for years. So it was helpful to have her voice in my head as I was writing that stuff. It’s funny—Joyce is so inventive, sometimes those grisly nursery rhymes come out so differently than the Joyce-voice I had in my head. I never know what she’ll do, which is part of what makes her so riveting. Gram says some pretty disturbing things, but Joyce plays her with so much heart and humor, it keeps you right there with her.
NS: Along with these treasured theatre vets, Robbie Sublett, Keilly McQuail and Naian González Norvind bring so much to the younger characters in the play…
GP: This is a warm, extremely affectionate cast who love being together and have massive respect for each other’s work. This is Naian’s first NYC play; Joyce has done more theater than most of us ever will—none of that mattered when we got to work. Everyone’s telling a distinct part of this story and they’re doing it beautifully.
NS: They do seem like a warm little show family! Lastly, can you each tell me about one of your favorite (non-spoiler) moments of the production?
KW: I am a big fan of Mirtis' RISD moment. It came as such a surprise to me and Keilly does it wonderfully.
GP: There’s a storytelling moment in the transition between Scenes 6 and 7 that I think is so gorgeous. It emerged sort of late in the game, maybe during previews—I can’t quite remember. It’s lit perfectly and the music is exactly right. It was a challenge because it’s a really important plot point that happens with no dialogue, and while sets are moving. There are so many things I admire about Kate and her work but last night I was watching that particular transition and thinking, “God, she’s good.”