Chris HewittThe Pioneer Press
January 17, 2016
If music can help us heal, can it also make us hurt? That's one of the themes suggested by "Lullaby," the play-with-songs being given its world premiere production by Theater Latte Da.
That's not all the play is about, of course. There are but four characters in "Lullaby" but, over the course of 90 minutes or so, they grapple with addiction, depression, suicide, insomnia, cancer, unrequited lust and poopy diapers.
You could argue Michael Elyanow's comedy -- oh, yeah, it's a comedy -- is a trifle overstuffed.
But Jeremy B. Cohen's graceful production holds it together, shifting fluidly between two settings -- a Massachusetts home and a Boston lesbian bar -- as three characters cope with parallel difficulties: Cassie (Adelin Phelps) and her inability to move past the death of her music-loving husband (David Darrow, mostly on-stage as a ghost), bar owner/singer Thea (Annie Enneking) and her inability to say goodbye to a bad relationship and Cassie's father, Gabriel (James Eckhouse), and his inability to stop enabling his alcohol-addicted wife.
None of that sounds terribly funny but the play's greatest gift -- or maybe its second-greatest -- is Elyanow's bracing wit, which brings us up short every time we fear the piece is about to get maudlin or pat.
There's a modern, absurdist side to Elyanow's humor -- as when a character describes the doughnut hole as "the best use of negative space ever" -- but also a Neil Simon-like craftsmanship in one-liners such as Thea's reaction to the description of a pedantically curated microbrewery ale: "Whatever just came out of your mouth just now sounds so f------ horrible, I gotta have one."
Enneking rips into that line -- and all her lines -- with a gusto that is as refreshing as it is hilarious.
Her brash, sharp-tonged Thea is Elyanow's strongest characterization, a woman who has lived just enough life to understand others' contradictory behavior but not quite enough to understand her own.
A woman of many parts, Enneking (who also teaches and choreographs stage combat) gets to bring together two of them -- acting and rock singing -- and the results are spectacular, as if she's thrilled to be able to use so much of her talent in service to a character that talent fits perfectly.
Thea and Cassie come together when the latter asks the former to teach her to play the guitar, so she can sing lullabies to her infant son but also because it may help her process the grief she feels for her late husband, who brought music into their lives and who, she fears, may have taken it away forever with his death.
Cassie's story ends up having to do with depression and, without spoiling the play's surprises, it features an unusually intelligent and compassionate treatment of the subject, one that grapples with not only how difficult the disease must be for the loved ones of its sufferers but also how agonizing it is for the depressed person who doesn't know how to get help.
There are no easy answers in "Lullaby," but it does guide its characters toward reconciliation.
The moving-toward-happiness ending, in fact, is one of many reminders of Gabriel's alcoholic wife, who we don't meet but who would undoubtedly be familiar with the serenity prayer.
That prayer hovers over the play's finale, by which time the characters have hopefully learned to accept what they can and cannot change and to know the difference between the two.
Chris Hewitt can be reached at 651-228-5552.
Follow him on twitter.com /ChrisHMovie.
When: Through Feb. 7
Where: Ritz Theater, 345 13 Ave. NE, Mpls.
Tickets: $37-$23, 612-339-3003 or latteda.org
Capsule: The play-with-music is clever and compassionate.