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Fred's Requiem

Joy Scime in "Fred's Requiem" at Buffalo East.

A small-town grocer named Fred dies, inspiring a string of conversations leading up to his disorderly funeral and one final confrontation between his estranged and embittered widow, and his unloved and unloving son. That’s the plot of Matthew LaChiusa’s new play, Fred’s Requiem, now playing at American Repertory Theater of WNY’s Buffalo East space on Main Street.

The play is a delightful series of exquisitely crafted conversations between carefully wrought characters. LaChiusa guides us into a world where David Mamet meets Tracy Letts in a veritable “La Ronde” of family dysfunction—which is a compact way of saying that idiosyncratic family members (reminiscent of Tracy Letts, author of August: Osage County, which also features a funeral, and Superior Donuts, now getting a handsome outing with an excellent cast at Road Less Traveled theater) engage in deftly direct yet subtle language (for which David Mamet is known) in a narrative that travels, scene by scene, through the interrelationships of the characters (as Arthur Schnitzler did in his 1900 Viennese tale of linking sexual interludes, La Ronde).

The added “Matthew LaChiusa” touch is the playwright’s fascination with local histories, which he has previously showcased in plays like Axeman’s Jazz and Red Clay. Here, LaChiusa has directed a talented cast of mixed experience, headed by Joy Scime as the irascible widow and Todd Fuller as her beleaguered son.

To appreciate the play, one needs to listen to the script and admire the way the words take us through the turns of jealousy, loyalty, aspirations, and loss. The setting is a grape-farming community south of Buffalo, where small town ethics make for overblown drama. Anybody who ever said that big cities are alienating has never lived in a small town like this, where folks not only feel entitled to know your business but to be part of it, and where your lifelong enemies are expected to show up at your funeral, and probably drink beer.

In addition to Fuller, and Scime, who is marvelously engaging in her beautifully modulated performance as the horrible matriarch, the cast features Scot Kaitanowski, Alexa Kopty, Adam Yellen, David Nuijens, Patrick Caughill, Bob Bozek, Leo DiBello, Kate Germain, Jocelyn Hanson, and Michael E. Nowicki. The company expresses words clearly and confidently, and while many lack experience, they give the script an able and secure rendering.

The production is modest and unpretentious, but it is clear that something important is brewing at Buffalo East, as LaChiusa cultivates a company to perform his work. Moreover, it is thrilling to hear such a strong script with its roots so firmly embedded in our own region. LaChiusa’s insights exceed the typical litany of familiar place names, to pierce the heart of what gives Western New York the sense of being a distinct and unique place.

Performances continue through December 3 at Buffalo East (1410 Main Street).