by Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Jennifer Engler
Stage Manager – Megan Beddingfield*
Assistant Stage manager – Katreeva Phillips*
Composer – Parker Greenwood
Sound Design – David H.M. Lambert
Lighting Design – John Leach
Set Design – Claire Floyd DeVries
Costume Design – Ryan Matthieu Smith
Keyboards – Larry Miller
Caroline – Lisa Fairchild
Cindy – Krista Scott
Karlie – Ashlee Waldbauer
Lourdes – Rachel Poole
Cliff – Ken Orman
Peter – Quinn Moran
Pastor Jay – Jakie Cabe
Reviewed Performance: 3/24/2018
Reviewed by Richard P. Buswold, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Rebecca Gilman is known writing plays that deal with social problems. Her latest offering, "Luna Gale" currently on stage at Circle Theatre in downtown Fort Worth, examines the social work field and the biases that come with it. There are many facets of this play. It is not just trying to show what happens in the world of Child Protective Services and the affects it has on the people involved. It tells the story of people who have been constantly beaten down by several different aspects of their lives searching for that miracle cure be it from God, drugs or 'the system' in which they are all involved.
The play is very well written but I got a little lost in the first act. It is definitely a show where you need to pay attention as sometimes there are plot points that don't make sense. Just hold on until the end and certain things will be explained that will make you think back on previous scenes and think, "OOOOHHH. Okay."
Set in present-day Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the play concerns the fate of a baby named Luna Gale. The play opens with her parents in an ER awaiting word from somebody, anybody about their daughter. It is readily apparent that both of these losers are strung out on something. While they are being 'kept' in the waiting room, Karlie (Ashlee Waldbauer), the baby's rebel teen mom, bounces around the place like the last ping pong ball in the Bingo hopper feeding her somewhat comatose boyfriend and Luna's dad, Peter, (Quinn Moran) a steady diet of Skittles trying to bring him to.
Caroline (Lisa Fairchild) enter the room to ask a few questions. She is the caseworker. Abrupt. Cold. Blunt. She observes all the sugary junk food being flung out of Karlie's purse and straight up asks, "How long have the two of you been smoking meth?" Ms. Wildbauer's energy in this opening scene clearly sets the tone for the show and moreover her performance. She shines throughout the play as her character grows and expands and triumphs and fails. She is clearly a talent of broad strokes. Ms. Fairchild comes in emotionless. So emotionless it comes across as merely a person reciting the same thing she has said over and over again. She shows no empathy or pathos or anything else actually. It wasn't until she starts her somewhat devious plan in the last 15 minutes of the first act that she shows anything at all. It made me uncomfortable and not in a good way. I felt like I was watching all these people's lives unfold before me and then there was Caroline who just came on stage, said what she needed to say and left. Even when she was happy and celebrating Lourdes' (Rachel Poole) aging out of the system and becoming an "adult", it seemed unnaturally stiff.
Luna is temporarily placed with Karlie's mother, Cindy (Krista Scott), who appears to be able to provide the baby with a stable home. Karlie hates her mother, an evangelical Christian more intent on saving the soul than helping the person. Caroline experiences this firsthand and laughs inappropriately causing an awkward silence while interviewing Cindy. Cindy wants to obtain permanent custody of Luna. Caroline doesn't think that would be good for Karlie because Luna is the prize for Karlie's recovery from meth addiction. She also doesn't think it would be good for Luna because of her own anti Bible-thumper bias. From here the show delves into trying to get a long-term solution for a bunch of short-sighted people and not completely screw up Luna's chances at a decent life in the process. It also brings up sexual abuse, custody rights, bigotry, prejudice and a few other sociologic concerns.
The plan Caroline devises to help Karlie and Peter win custody of Luna stems from half-truths and manipulation and really hammers home the end-justifies-the-means school of thought. But does it? When Cliff (Ken Orman), the new boss brought in from the oversight committee to clean up major deficiencies in the Cedar Rapids office, figures out what is going on, he steps out of bounds to try and fix the situation. It doesn't work and the chaos of the tragedy intensifies.
Hanging around the outside of the play is the subplot of Lourdes, the young lady who has aged out of the foster care system and is embarking on an adult world she is vastly unprepared for, at least in Caroline's opinion. This plotline skillfully illustrates the constant roller coaster of hopes and disappointment of that ever-wanting miracle that is needed in the messed-up world of foster care.
Luna Gale is an intensely complex story requiring the most skilled portrayal of emotions by the actors and ninety percent of the time it was there, engaging the audience, challenging them to think of WWYD. What Would YOU Do? Jennifer Engler has directed a solid piece of theatre that, although technically a tragedy, ended with that eternal flame of hope that everyone involved is moving on to better things so you can leave the theatre with a sense of serenity.
The lighting and set design are so bland that it doesn't add anything to the show but it really shouldn't. This show is about the story and the actor's portrayal. Anything showy or flashy would hinder the performance and these actors shine so brightly on their own. The surprise of the night came when I realized that Parker Greenwood composed all of the music used for the transitions of time and place. This is an addition for this production not included with the original. The music was pleasant and fit perfectly into the storyline and the tone of the show. Kudos to Parker.
"Luna Gale," one of the best new dramas, tears at our sensibilities, heaves our emotions and ends with all our sympathies focused on a small baby softly crying in a stroller being soothed by someone who loves her very much. It's okay to cry.
"Luna Gale" plays through April 14th at the Circle Theatre 230 W 4th ST, Fort Worth.
Thursday Curtain 7:30
Friday/Saturday Evening Curtain 8:00
Saturday Matinee 3:00
Tickets $25 - $38
To purchase tickets, call the Box Office at 817-877-3040 or come by TU-FR Noon-5: PM. The Box office is also open one hour prior to performances.