Cassie has a lot on her plate. There are her haunting, depressed husband; an absent, alcoholic mother, and a 2-year-old son crying upstairs.
If that were not enough, Cassie unwittingly jumps into the crumbling middle of a bar singer’s bad relationship. No wonder she can’t sleep.
Cassie occupies the center of Michael Elyanow’s disparate “Lullaby,” which had its world premiere Saturday by Theater Latté Da. Elyanow’s heart is in the right place, but he has piled more drama into this play than its 90-minute frame can support. Jeremy B. Cohen’s direction is overwrought, with the resulting sense of a made-for-TV movie — small moments become five-alarm fires and big gaps in logic are papered over with energy and histrionics.
This play is best when it sings through the voices and guitars of David Darrow and Annie Enneking. He is Craig, the husband still hanging around long after he should have departed; she is Thea, the club singer who befriends Cassie. Their songs, written by four composers, lend a welcome relief from the zigs and zags of Elyanow’s story.
Adelin Phelps, whose fire and attitude I have appreciated many times in the past few years, portrays Cassie with that same zest. Cohen, though, might have helped Phelps find more nuance and depth.
Frankly, that admonition could extend to the entire affair. Everything is just so angsty, and I fully understand the idea here: For someone in crisis, even small matters are heightened provocations. How that is accomplished, though, requires more attention than the shorthand treatment given here.
James Eckhouse plays Cassie’s father, an oddly well-adjusted fellow who enables his wife’s chemical dependency and worries whether she is doing well in her latest rehab facility. He babysits Cassie’s toddler, works full time as a teacher and plays cheerful third wheel in his daughter’s budding friendship with Thea. How perfect can a guy get?
Elyanow writes funny lines, makes wry observations and has the stomach to take on ambitious themes such as addiction, suicide and depression. It is serious stuff that should land with greater impact. Yet, Cohen and Elyanow’s melodramatic pitch and stilted character development throw the principal characters — Cassie and Thea — just beyond our reach.
The production uses the entirety of the Ritz Theater stage beautifully. Geoffrey Curly has designed a bookish suburban Boston townhome alongside a roughed-out club scene. Paul Whittaker’s lighting design differentiates the two worlds with subtle shades, and Peter Morrow has designed sound accents that are really effective.
Will Cassie cast off her demons and find happiness? Do we really need to ask? As with those Lifetime dramas that soak up a Thursday evening on the couch, these plucky characters stand in maudlin triumph at story’s end.