DCist Review: ELEGIES

ELEGIES by William Finn. Photo: Cameron Whitman Photography

Elegies: A Song Cycle packs an impressive 26 numbers into its brisk, just under 90-minute running time, and due to the sheer emotional heaviness of the piece, it’s probably about all an audience could handle. Inspired by (but not entirely focused on) the events of 9/11, grief and goodbye are woven thematically through most of the musical numbers, sung deftly by an impressive sextet that director Christina A. Coakley has assembled.

Composer William Finn (Falsettos, A New Brain) has a talent for balancing the absurd with the devastating, and Keegan Theatre’s Elegies isn’t all straightforward sadness. Harrison Smith in particular commits to a kind of unhinged enthusiasm as he works his way through numbers like “Fred,” an ode to a man excessively obsessed with chickens, and “My Dogs,” which loopily explores how the canines this one man loves keep dying on him.

As a revue, the challenge of Elegies is finding a way to emotionally connect with those characters we’re only getting to know through as little as a three-minute song. Often this succeeds, especially when Finn revels in specificity: I now feel like I’ve been a fly on the wall during John Loughney’s wryly delivered “Mark’s All-Male Thanksgiving,” and felt that lump in my throat growing as Katie McManus reminisced about her years spent raising children and developing friendships on “14 Dwight Ave., Natick, Massachusetts.”

The events of Sept. 11 loom over Elegies until its final moments, where a man caught in the towers (Ben Clark) and his wife at home (Brigid Wallace) hauntingly trade perspectives. “The ending’s not the story,” we’re reassured in the man’s final moments, and it’s a powerful truth Elegies leaves us with.