Lullaby by Theater Latté Da, performing at the Ritz Theater

David Darrow and Annie Enneking in Lullaby.

David Darrow, Annie Enneking, and Adelin Phelps in Lullaby. Photo by George Byron Griffiths.

A world premiere written by Michael Elyanow and directed by Jeremy Cohen, Lullaby (Theatre Latté Da, through Feb 7 performing at the Ritz Theater) is a story of family drama, broken relationships, mental illness, and grief aided by contemporary rock tunes. To those who are familiar, this may sound a lot like 2008’s Broadway sensation Next to Normal, and the show indeed owes a palpable debt to this work, even mirroring some of its more indelible devices. However, where Next to Normal opted to turn up the volume, Lullaby smartly whispers. It is a poignant and affecting exploration of the power of friendship in the midst of trauma and loss.

Set in Boston, the show’s plot centers on a young mother, Cassie, who is experiencing turmoil in her personal life, particularly in her relationship with her husband Craig. Cassie moves in with her father, Gabriel, and reaches out to Thea, a local musician and bar owner, for guitar lessons so she can share the gift of music with her son. Thea and Cassie’s friendship blossoms, and as they grow to trust one another with their baggage, they mutually move closer to finding meaning and much needed closure.

Anchoring the play with uneasy, manic energy is Adelin Phelps as Cassie. She is the heart of the story, and Phelps allows her character to transform through uncertain glances and tics. She is juxtaposed with Thea, who is played with warm-hearted, blue-collar irreverence by Annie Enneking. These two actresses have real chemistry and imbue the show with sincerity in moments that easily could have felt forced.

Enneking shares the show’s singing duties with a magnetic David Darrow, playing Cassie’s troubled, but loving husband Craig. In some of the show’s most inspired stagings, these two share meaningful harmonies. With spot on music direction by Peter Morrow, both singers are compelling on their own, but there is something specially moving about the blend of their wonderful voices. It certainly helps that the music and lyrics (by Garrison Starr, Chris Dallman, Curt Schneider, and Elyanow) offer haunting melodies and subtle, thoughtful words for them to sing.

The small cast is rounded out by James Eckhouse, playing Cassie’s assured, but weary father Gabriel. Eckhouse offers an endearing turn in a supporting role that grows as the show progresses. The entire cast avoids what could easily have turned to histrionics in favor of composed nuance and occasional humor. The result is an impressive, sustained sense of sincerity from each of the performers.

Undoubtedly, much credit for the power of these performances is due to Cohen’s understated direction. The show never feels self-important despite its weighty subject matter, and only in the show’s most dire moments does it employ more stylized sound and lighting effects, which makes their use all the more effective. This is all bolstered by Geoffrey Curly’s clean and simple set design, allowing for action to move with ease while capturing many small details of lived-in spaces.

This play is one of two brand new shows to be staged through Theater Latté Da’s Next 20/20 program this year. This ambitious initiative has the goal of developing twenty new musicals by the year 2020. If only a few of those upcoming works end up being as lovely and impressive as Lullaby, it would be hard to deny the project’s worth. Go see this warm, moving play and experience some of the best and most exciting work the Twin Cities has to offer.

David and Chelsea Berglund review movies on their site Movie Matrimony.

2 comments for “Lullaby by Theater Latté Da, performing at the Ritz Theater

  1. Bobbi Kaplan
    January 20, 2016 at 12:12 am

    A sensitive and compassionate portrayal of those who love and live with those suffering from depression and addiction. It is also a play about the strength of friendship between two women. The lovely music and memorable lyrics flowed throughout the play. Some very funny lines were dispersed throughout providing comic relief to serious subjects. A beautiful and poignant play.

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