Peter Friedman and Mare Winningham Discover Her Requiem
The pair stars in Greg Pierce's new play at LCT3.
"I love working here," Mare Winningham says in the café of the Claire Tow Theater. "I love walking to Lincoln Center thinking, 'I'm doing a play.' It's a fantasy."
"Have you done shows here?" she asks Peter Friedman, who is seated across from her.
"Not in this theater, no," Friedman replies. "I did something downstairs at the Mitzi Newhouse in '83 [And a Nightingale Sang] and then something at the Vivian Beaumont in '90 [The Tenth Man]. But that's it. The early days."
"So you're a threefer."
"I hadn't thought about that. That's nice."
After starring together in Amy Herzog's After the Revolution at Playwrights Horizons in 2010, Friedman, a two-time Drama Desk winner and Tony nominee for originating the role of Tateh in Ragtime, and Winningham, a two-time Emmy winner and Oscar nominee for the film Georgia, are reuniting in Greg Pierce's Her Requiem at LCT3.
"I wanted more," Winningham says when asked about their working relationship. "So you get what you want."
But why do they work so well together?
"We're good," she says with a laugh.
"She can really figure out what's wrong with a scene, or what's right with it," Friedman notes. "She's able to see it on the page like it's highlighted. I'm just like, 'Well, it'll become clear eventually.' But she knows."
"Maybe it's a good combo because we ask different questions," Winningham adds. "When they're answering his, I'm going, 'Oh, I wouldn't have asked that. And sometimes when I ask something, he gives me the compliment that he wouldn't have asked that."
Upon their initial reads of Her Requiem, both actors realized it would require a lot of work to play Dean and Allison, a Vermont couple whose daughter has locked herself away in her bedroom, taking leave from her senior year of high school, to compose a full-scale requiem.
"I thought it was hard," Friedman says. "I saw it as getting in there with rubber gloves and getting dirty and figuring out what this is, because it wasn't immediately clear to me. I wondered where the stage-worthiness was in that idea."
"You mean, like whether it was heady or…"
"Well, if it all happens in that room that nobody goes into…"
"It's like a thriller in that way, I think. You want to know what I first thought when I read it?" she asks.
"Unless they get the greatest actor in the world to play this part, this thing is going to be tricky. I said to my agents, 'I love this thing, but unless they get a great actor for this role,' and they said, 'They have Peter Friedman,' and I'm like, 'Yeah! I'm in!'"
They both laugh.
"It's a tricky role, wouldn't you say?" she says of Dean, a character who goes from tangent to tangent sprouting bits of philosophy and names of exotic teas. "He's so verbal and hyper and…I just thought, this is a lot to ask of anyone."
"And yet," Friedman adds, "you have to assume that Greg knows this person, has seen somebody talk on these little tributaries all the time. It's daunting. There's a lot to keep off the ground so it sounds like a person, still."
As they've both noted, Friedman's character, Dean, is a particular challenge. "We get little clues that things are sort of funky [with their daughter's project] and [Allison] is the only one who picks up on it. I'm oblivious. He's got a lot riding on this, bigger fish to fry." Even though it's his daughter's project, "This cannot miss, because then he'll be another failure."
And they have been studying. "As the phrase goes," Friedman says, "An actor must know the reality he depicts to the minutest detail. So you have to take everything that's mentioned and everything you don't know and look it up. There are millions in this play. You do your best, but I don't think there are enough days to cover all of his interests. I have bought rooibos, blueberry, and lapsang souchong [teas], but I could go on and buy eight more that [Dean] lists. I have one of them every morning. The lapsang is smoked, so it's like you're drinking bacon. You have to go easy on it."
A tea connoisseur is born? "Well, for three."
"And that's just one line!" Winningham adds with a laugh. "The other day, Greg was talking with Peter about this big outburst that he has, that's filled with philosophical and literary references and…it was fascinating to hear Greg break it down. [Director] Kate [Whoriskey's] gift is finding ways of having information received. Even if the stuff is too heady for some of us, I think Kate is looking for the ways that information can be received dramatically." "That is the trick right there."
But as actors, this is what they gravitate toward.
"Sometimes, keeping it aloft is a special effort," Friedman concludes. "But that's why we took it. It's not easy. But every day is fun. Nobody's panicking. We're just going through it and taking our time."
"It feels right for this play," Winningham adds. "It's thrilling because it's hard, because it's dense. This will be fun."