Gilman’s Prolific LUNA GALE Shows An Infant As The Ultimate Victim
In playwright Rebecca Gilman’s intense new work Luna Gale, now having its premiere at the Goodman Theatre, a prolific understanding is given to how easily it is for some families to get caught up in a broken governmental system that was intended to serve the best interest of a child.
From the moment we see two tweaking teens in an emergency room lounge awaiting the condition of their infant (Luna Gale), you are overcome with a sense of reality not seen on stage in a very long time. Luna Gale can be described as the ultimate victim, whose destiny is predetermined before she turns one. Here, A baby is caught in a custody battle between a grandmother, (Jordan Baker) whose religious zealotry blurs the natural bond between mother and daughter; a DFS caseworker, (Mary Beth Fisher) who is battling a budget conscious younger supervisor (Erik Hellman) as well as inner demons of her own; and two young meth addicted parents, (Reyna de Courcy and Colin Sphar) who find themselves at the ultimate crossroad.
Superbly directed by Robert Falls, each scene plays out like a modern day soap opera with twists and turns in the plot leading to mini-cliffhangers that keeps the play always engaging. More than that, Mr. Falls has put together a cast that clearly respects the material the playwright has given them and brings forth the story in an understated, clear tone. The key to Ms. Gillman’s play is that each of the players are interacting through the social worker, so we see first hand the “he said,she said” scenario that leads to her decision.
That is what makes the perfectly cast Mary Beth Fisher’s character arch as Caroline so astounding in its subtly. She is a commanding force on the stage without even realizing it. Fisher’s matter of fact delivery allows the other actors to react to her in a real and visceral way, bringing out the truth of each character. This allows for us as audience members to relate to certain characters we may otherwise find inaccessible.
Jordan Baker brings the perfect balance of loneliness and self-loathing to her portrayal of Cindy which makes her disconnect from reality and love of religion understandable; especially when viewed with Richard Thieriot’s earnest portrayal of Pastor Jay. Ms. de Corucy, one of our finest young actors, brings many of the harsh, emotionally charged traits of the character she played in The Whale to her meth addicted Karlie, which makes us root all the more for Colin Sphar’s Peter, whom we realize is the only hope for Luna. But it is through Erik Hellman’s complex performance as Cliff, at first glimpse Caroline’s youthful nemesis , that in the end she is given the chance to being her own healing.
The action of Luna Gale takes place on Todd Rosenthal’s large turntable set that effortlessly moves between the play’s many scenes, which are all expertly lit by Robert Wierzel and underscored by Richard Woodbury.
Luna Gale is an important work because it puts in context an issue that all too often is given a perfunctory story here and there in the news. These agencies are facing huge budget and staff cuts yet a greatly increased caseload of children. The underpaid social workers, along with our judiciary, are given a unique responsibility that will shape the lives of hundreds of thousands of children whose impact on our society will be felt for generations to come.
Luna Gale plays through February 23, 2014 at the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL. For tickets and more information visit 312-443-3800 or goodmantheatre.org. For calendar information visit TheatreInChicago.com