By Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Robert Falls
At the Goodman Theatre, Chicago
Complex drama about the dilemmas of government deciding a child’s welfare
Rebecca Gilman, a favorite of the Goodman Theatre and director Robert Falls, has mounted another world premiere play in Luna Gale. This riveting work is complex with multilayered themes and fully developed characters featuring one of Gilman’s most memorable characters: Caroline,the social worker (Mary Beth Fisher). Luna Gale is much more than merely a dramatization of the problems within the welfare system. It exposes the influences that affect decision making for Caroline, her boss, the child in question’s (Luna Gale) parents and the grandmother’s qualifications for guardianship.
Caroline, a 25 year veteran social worker must sort out the custody of infant Luna Gale after the hospital reports child neglect that has left the infant near death. The parents, two 19 year old’s , Karlie (Reyna de Courcy) and Peter (Colin Sphar) are meth addicts who are seemingly ill equipped for child raising despite loving the child. Caroline’s gut instincts and her 25 year’s of experience. leads her to believe that if, and that’s a big “if” the parents go through rehab and required procedures and training, they could regain custody of their child. But, for now, Caroline places the infant in the care of Karlie’s mother, Cindy (Jordan Baker).
Upon routine visits to the child’s environment, Caroline discovers that Cindy is a fanatic, “end of the world is coming” Evangelical Christin. Those extreme beliefs raises alarm bells for Caroline as to the grandmother’s fitness to raise a child. Cindy’s influence from her pastor, Jay (Richard Thieriot) adds fuel to Caroline’s concerns.
Once Caroline bonds enough with the parents, she gets them into required programs but since drug rehab programs are filled, the parents must struggle with only Caroline’s counseling to aid them. But they do show signs of changing for the better so Caroline thinks they should eventually get custody of Luna Gale.
However, Cindy, with pastor Jay’s help attempt to adapt the infant. This sparks a family conflict based fundamentally on a log-seed conflict between Karlie and her mother. Caroline becomes more determined to aid the infant once one of her previous cases who “aged out” at 18 years old of the system is found dead of a drug overdose.
With Caroline fighting with her young inexperienced boss, Cliff (Erik Hellman) over system procedures, we see how personal biases from each can influence social welfare decisions. This conflict, with mounting events, forced Caroline to reveal personal past experiences with lief-altering consequences for all concerned. I’ll not say more so as not to spoil things.
Playwright Rebecca Gilman has created a memorable character in Caroline and Mary Beth Fisher nails the salty veteran with a combination of dark humor with a serious edge and a fully dedicated, almost fanatical zeal. Fisher shows the strength and the venerability of Caroline as well as the guile she possesses as she navigates the system in the best interests of the child.
Luna Gale examines what it means to be a good parent and can government ever really protect a child? This important drama has realistic dilemmas told in proper responses from the characters. The sheer honesty of Fisher’s performance along with the riveting turn from Reyna de Courcy as the meth addict Karlie make for powerful characters caught as they expose past secrets that affect present situations.
Luna Gale is one of those plays that leave you thinking and thankful that your family is functioning without the necessity of help from the social welfare system. Luna Gale is one of Rebecca Gilman’s better plays. it is worth seeing.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: January 27, 2014
For more info checkout the Luna Gale page at theatreinchicago.com
At the Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago, IL, call 312-443-3800, www.goodmantheatre.org, tickets $25 – $81, Wed & Thurs at 7:30, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 7:30 pm, matinees at 2 pm on Thurs, Sat & Sun, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through Feb. 22, 2014