For years, psychologists have marveled at the power of music to rebuild memory, aid recovery from brain injury, and even fight Alzheimer’s disease. In The Requiem, talented young playwright Madison Middleton uses the paradigm of music as a bridge to the past to craft a touching story of family reconciliation, by way of violins and Vivaldi.
Even though Middleton is surely the youngest voice in the ongoing Women’s Voices Theater Festival, her script and cast of confident high schoolers deliver a mature, nuanced drama.
The play opens as Maria, a struggling violinist, moves back in with her parents after years away from home. Shannon Leach brings a practiced confidence and emotional range to the role of pink-haired, iconoclastic Maria. Upon ascending to her old attic room, she gets the shock of a lifetime when she stumbles upon an old man amidst a heap of classical records. Her surprise doubles when the stranger is revealed as her long-absent grandfather Leland, who has been forced home by creeping Alzheimer’s. As the mercurial Leland, Max Rome brings a depth and sense of pacing beyond his years; even in 11th grade, Rome knows how to hold a moment.
Maria, resentful of Leland’s return after abandoning her mother years before, schemes to remove Leland from her parents’ home and hearts. But even as she tries to push her grandfather towards a nursing home, Maria finds unexpected common ground in a shared love for classical music. Leland conjures secret memories of his first meeting with Maria’s grandmother, framed evocatively in moonlight blue by lighting designer Simon Ellerbe.
Soon Leland’s memory backslides, and the uneasy truce is pushed to a breaking point. As Maria’s long-suffering mother, Haley Shea squeezes the most out of her limited stage time, projecting deep hurt and years of resentment through pained glances and moving bursts of emotion. Colin Sidley brings warmth and patience to the role of soft-spoken father Timothy, who does his best to steady his roiling household.
The emotional conclusion brings the theme of music and memory full circle. After a climactic fight, Maria sees her chance to finally break through to Leland. Violinist Keelin Quirk adds a lyrical backdrop to a rewarding reckoning, wherein two generations of musicians finally see eye to eye through the prism of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. Director Eva Silverman’s careful building of complex family dynamics pays off in the touching final scene.
A few hiccups break the stride of a solid production. Chiefly, too-frequent scene changes on the creaky stage often interrupt the actors just as they’re building steam, rather than letting nice moments breathe. As the show only runs 45 minutes, ideally the cast will find its groove and take a bit more time in each scene. Several lighting miscues threw off the mood as well. Apparently the company had just one day to practice in the space before opening night, so this issue should be resolved with a few post-opening tweaks.
Still, it’s rare to see a youth production, let alone an original work, project this much self-awareness and maturity. The production takes a relatable, realistic approach in its dealings with very adult problems of frayed family ties, buried regret, and mortality. The Requiem feels like just the start of even bigger things for Middleton and her cast.
The Requiem by Madison Middleton . Directed by Eva Silverman . Lighting Design: Simon Ellerbe . Set Design: Phoenix Ganz-Ratzat . Produced by The Students’ Theatre of Highwood Theatre . Reviewed by Ben Demers.