On the heels of the successful world premiere of C., Theater Latté Da announces a slate of adventurous pieces for the annual NEXT Festival.

Three exhilarant, engaging new works from Kate Hamill, Dan Chouinard, and Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle that push the art form of musical theater forward will each receive two-week workshops and three public readings. Readings begin May 5 at the Ritz Theater in Minneapolis.

 $30 three-show passes and $13 single tickets are on sale now at latteda.org or 612-339-3003.


(Minneapolis/St. Paul) On the heels of the successful world premiere musical C., Theater Latté Da announced the slate of artists and projects for this year's NEXT Festival. Three exhilarant new works from Kate Hamill, Dan Chouinard, and Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle will each receive two-week workshops and three public readings beginning Thursday, May 5. Theater Latté Da recently launched NEXT 20/20, a robust new work initiative aimed at developing 20 new musicals or plays with music and shepherding many of them to full production. The majority of the world premieres receiving a full production will be derived from the NEXT Festival. The first piece in the NEXT Festival is IN THE MINES by Kate Hamill. In Appalachian coal-mining territory, a devastating cave-in forever changes and intertwines the lives of three imperfect women—who find themselves swept up by forces beyond their control. This epic, imaginative mutation of Greek myths interweaves traditional folk music with magical realism to create a new mythology examining the forces, both seen and unseen, that shape our lives. With direction by Peter Rothstein, music direction by Denise Prosek, and dramaturgy by Elissa Adams, IN THE MINES features the talents of Christina Baldwin, Mark Benninghoffen, Bear Brummel, Paul Coate, Beth Gilleland, Bradley Greenwald, Aeysha Kinnunen, Sara Ochs, and Thomasina Petrus.

Hamill offers, “It’s an epic piece, and really close to my heart: it’s part exploration of mythology and cycles of poverty, but also very much an exploration of aspects of the rural culture in which I grew up.” She continues, “It’s also that rare opportunity to concentrate COMPLETELY on a piece as a writer for weeks! To have the opportunity to give IN THE MINES really focused attention (especially with feedback from collaborators and audiences) is so invaluable. This process can change a piece down to its very foundations: I’m excited to play around with it!” Another point of note is that Hamill’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility will open the Guthrie Theater’s 2016-17 season.

Performances of IN THE MINES are Thursday, May 5 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, May 7 at 7:30 pm; and Monday, May 9 at 7:30 pm at the Ritz Theater.

The second piece in the NEXT Festival is THE URBAN FARMER’S ALMANAC hosted by Dan Chouinard. THE URBAN FARMER’S ALMANAC is a live-performance written-for-radio variety show about raising food and living close to the ground in the city. Chouinard hosts, with a crop of guests bringing stories and first-hand how-to, from rooftop beekeepers to basement cheesemakers, backyard bakers to vacant lot farmers. Plus lots of music, history, and lore. A fresh local take on a growing global movement. Peter Rothstein will direct, with Chouinard as music director, and Marge Ostroushko as radio dramaturg. THE URBAN FARMER’S ALMANAC features the talents of Beth Dooley, Star Tribune food writer; Michael Cheney, founder of Project Sweetie Pie; Lucie Amundsen, co-founder of Locally Laid Egg Co.; Christopher MacLeod, founder of Laune Bread; and Jordan Sramek and members of the Rose Ensemble. The piece will also feature Dane Stauffer, Beth Gilleland,  Prudence Johnson, Peter Ostroushko, and Thomasina Petrus. Of this unique festival offering Rothstein says, “Dan Chouinard has a long and rich history with Theater Latté Da, most recently with the award-winning Steerage Song.” He continues, “We are excited to see what one of the Twin Cities’ most treasured artists is up to next.”

Performances of THE URBAN FARMER’S ALMANAC are Thursday, May 12 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, May 14 at 7:30 pm; and Sunday, May 15 at 2:00 pm at the Ritz Theater.

The final piece in the Festival is THE ILLYRIA PROJECT by Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle (aka Jax & Pos). Jax & Pos are affiliates of the Q Brothers who are best known for “rewriting Shakespeare plays into hip hop musical add-RAP-tations.”THE ILLYRIA PROJECT is the story of Viola, a barista and aspiring rapper, who seizes the opportunity to fulfill her dream of becoming a star when she finds out about an audition for Shipwrecked, The Musical. This new hip hop musical with a book written entirely in rap verse and performed over beats, weaves together soul, rock, and rap music in a rollicking interpretation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Jax & Pos will direct and Christina Ham will serve as dramaturg. THE ILLYRIA PROJECT features the talents of Shinah Brashears, Ryan Colbert, Jonathon Dull, Aeysha Kinnunen, Kasono Mwanza, Thomisina Petrus, and Max Wojtanowicz. The production also features a special appearance by DJ Kool Akiem.

Rothstein offers, “Last October, members of the TLD staff witnessed Jax & Pos perform in a hip hop adaptation of Othello at the National Alliance of Musical Theater New Work Festival.” He continues, “We were all in awe of the performance and their innovative twist on the Bard. Twin Cities’ audiences have really got to see this!”

Performances of THE ILLYRIA PROJECT are Thursday, May 19 at 7:30 pm; Saturday, May 21; and Monday, May 23 at the Capri Theater.

Theater Latté Da is an award-winning Twin Cities musical theater company that combines music and story to illuminate the breadth and depth of the human experience. The company seeks to create new connections between story, music, artists and audience by exploring and expanding the art of musical theater.  latteda.org.

Festival Dates: May 5- 23, 2016

Venues: Ritz Theater and Capri Theater

Performance Dates and Times:

IN THE MINES Thursday, May 5 at 7:30 pm Saturday, May 7 at 7:30 pm Monday, May 9 at 7:30 pm Performances of IN THE MINES are at the Ritz Theater

THE URBAN FARMER’S ALMANAC Thursday, May 12 at 7:30 pm Saturday, May 14 at 7:30 pm Sunday, May 15 at 2:00 pm Performances of THE URBAN FARMER’S ALMANAC are at the Ritz Theater

THE ILLYRIA PROJECT Thursday, May 19 at 7:30 pm Saturday, May 21 at 7:30 pm Monday, May 23 at 7:30 pm Performances of THE ILLYRIA PROJECT are at the Capri Theater

Theater Latte Da's 'Lullaby' hits the right note

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.

What: "Lullaby"

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.