Luna Gale is an American play, by Rebecca Gilman, written in 2014.
Luna Gale has been taken into custody for her own safety. She is the baby daughter of Karlie (Lucy Heffernan) and Peter (Jacob Warner). They are, unfortunately, meth addicts, and have been dangerously neglectful of their child. Karlie’s mother, Cindy (Michelle Doake), a born-again Christian, is given temporary care custody but seeks adoption status which Karlie fiercely argues against. It escalates into a court battle.
Cindy has the support of her church pastor, Pastor Jay (David Whitney), who has a senior contact in the bureaucracy of the child protection department, Cliff (Scott Sheridan). Cliff has ambitions and though only recently appointed, is now the supervising ‘boss’ of Caroline (Georgie Parker), who has an established 25-year career as a ‘foot soldier’ in this child protection department. It is permanently overwhelmed with too many cases in need of attention in an understaffed environment. Caroline’s job has to juggle, supervise, 70 or so, cases. Some she succeeds in helping, some she fails. All however – positively or negatively – take a toll on her professionally and personally.
The Luna Gale case seems to be very straightforward but as the actions of each individual concerned is ‘fuelled’ by the conscious objectives of each, layered from the deep, and, possibly, unconscious motivational forces of each character, built from their ‘book’ and street-life experiences, and played out within the bureaucratic and ethical boundaries of the ‘system’, Luna’s case becomes fraught with frustrations that can, does, tempt behaviour that leads them all to cross lines of ethical behaviour.
Caroline, following the ‘gut-feelings’ of her 25 years of experience, becomes entangled in the complex family and institutional dynamics. She finds herself in combat with antagonists, who demand that she cross lines of propriety to achieve what may be best for baby Luna.
The construct of Ms Gilman’s is an episode by episode dilemma of sudden twists and turns, thrillingly plotted within the ordinariness of some people’s lives. Ms Gilman has always written with an enlightened eye on the lives of the underprivileged, the socially deprived, the ordinary, simple citizen trapped in a social system that is bristling with demands that are predicated by a belief that in a democracy all are equal and all should be ‘judged’ as equals, equally. We, as we all grasp, as we proceed through our destinies, are not all equal. Some are more equal than others. There is tremendous social drama in this play of conflicting ideologies between the ambitions of church and state, tempered by the twists of a suspense ‘thriller, peppered with humour, ironic, pathetic and just plain funny.
“Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” It is the self-deception and the deceptive social interactions that we all engage in to survive to get what we want, that Ms Gilman classically interrogates and writes about, for us, with great compassion. The difficulties of living well, with our ‘honesty’ intact, is what Ms Gilman is always concerned with. Boy Gets Girl (2000), Spinning into Butter (2000) and The Glory of Living (2001) are all plays worth knowing.
Georgie Parker, in the central role, never much off stage, gives a devastating performance of emotional complexity of contrarian challenges, whilst maintaining the expected cool veneer of professional composure – humanity.
Director Susanna Dowling has elicited terrific performances from all the company of actors. Michelle Doake’s Cindy is frighteningly sweet and dangerous, abetted by David Whitney’s Pastor Jay, pursuing a sanctimonious religious zealotry with blinded vision, supported cooly and with ruthless precision by Scott Sheridan’s bureaucrat, Cliff, a hypocritical amalgam of church and state ‘patriarchal’ ambitions. While Lucy Heffernan and Jacob Warner, as the blighted, flawed parents, Karlie and Peter, subtly reveal the sad and startling revelation of the trajectory of these two figures – as an audience, they move us from a kind of fear and revulsion to one of understanding and compassion, of hope. The important contrasted sub-plot of the client Lourdes, to illustrate the workload of Caroline and the tragedy that she experiences in the pressure-cooker of her career and daily life, is not integrated well enough by Ms Dowling in this production and seems to be unnecessary and so the work by Ebony Vagulans is unfairly unnoticed.
Simone Romaniuk has created a set design that shifts location regularly. She’s managed it with some ingenuity of sliding door-panels that reveal details, assisted by the ‘choreography’ of the actors shifting important furniture details. Ms Romaniuk has also cared for the costumes. Nicholas Higgins, the lighting, and a bouncy score from Marty Jamieson.
For more of Kevin Jackson’s theatre reviews, check out his blog at Kevin Jackson’s Theatre Diary
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David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television