DC Theater Arts Review: ELEGIES

ELEGIES by William Finn. Photo: Cameron Whitman Photography
Keegan’s reassuring ‘Elegies’ reflects on joy, grief, and gratitude

An elegy is “a poem of serious reflection, typically a lament for the dead.” Elegies: A Song Cycle, now playing at Keegan Theatre, is a 90-minute collection of songs that do that same thing. You could call it a playlist of “infinite joys” (as one song is titled), grief, and gratitude.

[Writer William Finn’s] lyrics articulate human frailty, terror, and hope with an undeniably American, late-decline-of-capitalism precision. His portraits of people accepting the need to learn to live with grief rather than trying to get over it are — well — reassuring. His work seems to be saying: this stuff is hard, and every human being is slogging through it with varying levels of grace. To make this statement heard and felt musically is no small achievement for a composer and no small gift for audiences.

At their best, his lyrics are like candid snapshots of an unnamable and easily overlooked thing that makes human life worth living.

Director Christina A. Coakley has put together a production that has many things going for it. The set (Matthew J. Keenan) is clean, simple, elegant, and versatile … The music arrangements provided vibrant and varied settings for the songs and the performers. Music Director Josh Cleveland implemented those arrangements like somebody who knew what he was doing. Through almost 90 minutes of nonstop playing. Cleveland’s accompaniment pushed, prodded, and generally provided a confident and firm foundation for the performers.

The performers’ harmonies were lovely, and those well-balanced small chorus moments were always welcome when they arrived. Individually, the cast engaged boldly with the material. … This production offers us exactly what the definition of an elegy promises: a space for serious reflection. Set to music.