At the Ritz Theater in northeast Minneapolis, Theater Latte Da is presenting a world premiere new show, Lullaby. A play with music directed by Jeremy B. Cohen and written by Michael Elyanow, this show is a tour de force. With four actors, two guitars, and a world of emotions, Lullaby tells the story of a single mother, Cassie (Adeline Phelps) who is dealing with the loss of her husband Craig (David Darrow) to suicide. Afraid of what will happen now that her two-year-old son no longer has Craig to play him to sleep, she vows to learn the guitar, saying, “I can’t have my boy growing up thinking that when someone you love dies, they take the music with them.” Convincing bar owner and musician Thea (Annie Enneking) to teach her to play, she finds a new friend who helps her come to terms will her loss, understand her own illness, and better communicate with her father, Gabriel (James Eckhouse) about her strained relationship with her mother.
Lullaby is a refreshing new face in musicals that discuss emotional hardship. While some sugarcoat or romanticize mental illness or become a how-to on “how to love someone with mental illness,” this show takes a different path. Cassie’s insomnia and persistent visions of her dead husband are shown with stark understanding. There is no questioning of sanity – what she sees is real and it is understood as such. Though she struggles to understand her loss and Craig’s death as well as how she should love him, there is no questioning that he deserves her love. This is powerful enough on its own for those who battle their own mental illness and it is refreshing to see onstage a refusal to accept the ideas that pop psychology present to us.
Also revolutionary is the friendship between Cassie and Thea. Never on stage or in any medium have I seen a relationship between a straight woman and a lesbian presented where they actually remain good friends. With humor, honesty, and vulnerability, the two grow together in a way that speaks volumes about recovering from loss and learning to understand each others’ hardships.
Through it all is woven the music, balancing between lullabies, haunting acoustic melodies, and punk-style tunes that reminisce of The Replacements and other such 80s bands. Playwright Michael Elaynow describes in the program that in this show, “music is used in all different kinds of ways: as lullaby, as lament, as celebration, as anger.” Like Leonard Cohen’s famous “Hallelujah,” which means many different things to many people, the music in this show mean many different things in the moments they present. Likewise, this show presents many different ways to understand and relate to the events and the characters. Some may see this as a father-daughter story, as the struggles and repeated cycling through the grief process over the loss of a loved one, of being haunted by someone you love who is no longer present in your life, of better understanding friendship, psychology, sexuality… The opportunities are endless.
However you choose to see it, this show is a beautiful work that holds great promise. Like all new shows, there are moments that could be tweaked, but overall it is a powerful, masterful piece that captures the audience from the first guitar chord and doesn’t let go until the last one at the close. Whether you cry through most of the show as I did or are simply moved by the performances, it is a show not to be missed.
Lullaby is playing at the Ritz Theater from now through February 7th. Show information, show schedule, and ticket prices can all be found on Theater Latte Da’s website.