Play's Look At Death A True Labor Of Love

March 22, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

Michael Gilles' play "Kate's Requiem" is a touching, altogether worthwhile piece of theater that has been brought off exceptionally well by the Annapolis Theater Project under the author's direction.

Theoverwhelming impression is that this uplifting, poignant look at death and dying is truly a labor of love.

The play was composed by Gilles in the aftermath of his mother's death from Crohn's disease, a fate shared by Kate Miller, the dying wife, mother and friend who is the subject of the play. It is a worthymemorial indeed.

Kate Miller lived a rich, uncliched, challenginglife and died a death that taught others about love, need and the resilience of the human spirit. There are worse epitaphs, to be sure.

But Gilles' play is noteworthy for reasons that go beyond the appeal of his characters. In fact, this is a very clever, deft piece of creative writing.

The author intertwines Kate's final days with an on-stage performance of British composer John Rutter's musical settingof the Requiem mass.

The Rutter Requiem is a soothing, pastoral setting of the liturgy for the dead, and it is striking how the play'sseven scenes echo the musical content of the work's seven movements.

The warmth of daughter Megan's opening monologue leads to the child-like simplicity of Rutter's "Requiem Aeternam."

Reminiscences of Kate's difficult childhood mirror the despair of "Out of the Depths" while the family's death-watch is bound to the mournful dirge of the "Agnus Dei." The concluding "Lux aeterna"bathes Megan's love for her mother in the light of everlasting memory.

As music becomes theater, and vice-versa, the effect is both ingenious and moving.

M. J. Rafalko dominates the proceedings as Megan, and she does so with admirable honesty and a touching innocence.

Sue Centurelli brings Kate to life so sympathetically that it's impossible not to feel the family's loss when she dies.

The supporting players provide many heartfelt moments, most notably Tim King's bittersweet administering of the last rites and Mary Northam's dispensing of the bedside irreverence that only years of friendship can allow.

Rutter's "Requiem" is far from easy to sing, but, on the whole, the ensemble does a good job musically. The "Agnus Dei" was very powerful and all voice parts seemed secure for the most part. Some of the tougher chromatic interludes failed to materialize properly and a professional lyric soprano ought to have been engaged to sing the "Pie Jesu" and "Lux Aeterna" solos which remained decidedly earthbound. Still, there was much to admire musically.

The liturgy for the dead has inspired great composers to extraordinary creative heights. The requiems of Mozart, Brahms, Verdi, Faure, Durufle and others are the jewels in the crown of the choral repertoire. Nowhere does the mortality of man merge with the immortality of art so dramatically.

"Death," wrote the composer Gabriel Faure, "is a happy deliverance, an aspiration toward happiness above." But "Kate's Requiem" reminds us unpretentiously and eloquently that it can also be an affirmation of happiness here below. "Death," said the poet, "is the mother of beauty."

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