PARENTAL RIGHTS, GRANDPARENTAL WRONGS
As with her hit debut drama Spinning Into Butter (1999), Rebecca Gilman’s newest agitation Luna Gale, directed by Robert Falls at Goodman Theatre, puts the versatile Mary Beth Fisher in the hot seat. Instead of playing a university dean coming to terms with her own racism, Fisher now depicts another authority figure caught in the crossfire: Already plagued with too many clients and too few resolutions in her child care cases, beleaguered social worker Caroline is a single woman who finds herself caught up in a custody battle with no easy outcome. She’s also battling her own demons as she faces the Solomonic choice of who is best to raise a child who probably used up her good luck the moment she was born.
As if that’s not enough, a subplot depicts the tangled challenges faced by Caroline’s protégé Lourdes (Melissa DuPrey), a former ward now entering college with her own history of addiction that’s far from relegated to her past.
The absorbing Luna Gale sucks an audience into its arguments like a Hoover, despite a formulaic storyline, much like the crises in a Lifetime “issue” movie, and its stereotypical characters; this efficient two-act drama raises questions that are just as intriguing as its satisfactory resolution.
No abstract analysis (so it deserves the synopsis that follows), Gilman’s problem play asks us to take sides in a very ugly battle over the title baby. Luna’s parents, hyper Karlie (Reyna de Courcy) and calmer Peter (Colin Sphar) are slacker nightmares from the millennial shop of horrors—meth tweekers who can barely support themselves, let alone an unexpected offspring. The first scene, depicting Karlie almost out of control as she demands her daughter, exists to make the audience dismiss them as dangerous drifters and potentially abusive addicts.
But Caroline has an alternative to consigning Luna to Karlie and Peter’s untender mercies: Karlie’s mother Cindy (Jordan Baker), backed by her pastor Jay (Richard Thieriot), offers a nice home and safe surroundings. But this evangelical fanatic is also a “crazy Christian” (as Caroline imprudently calls her) who believes the world is a “veil,” the Apocalypse is imminent, and her daughter is the spawn of Satan, an unfit mother in a world that’s doomed. Caroline wastes no time in baptizing Luna against her mother’s wishes.
Worse, Cindy feels herself above criticism by a government flunky: To this godly grandma, her pushy pastor and, unfortunately, Caroline’s true-believing boss Cliff (Erik Hellman), any questioning of Cindy’s right to raise Luna as a God-fearing super-virgin is an attack on religion itself, as any right-minded judge will surely see.
Caroline weighs the dubious option of a “concurring plan” (where she maps out two very different adoptions, playing mother against grandmother until one of them “wins” Luna). But there’s something about Karlie that triggers terrible—and accurate—memories and protective instincts in Caroline. It doesn’t help that a prayer session that Caroline is forced to join looks just like yet another kind of abuse.
So the Solomons in the audience confront a sickening dilemma—recovery versus Revelations: Can the parents dry out in rehab quickly enough to win permanent adoption of their only child? What will her grandmother inflict on Luna Gale, considering how powerless she was to protect Karlie from an anguished childhood? Is foster care, meaning four kids in an anarchic bedroom, the only answer?
Happily, unlike Edward Albee’s The Play About the Baby (an ugly depiction of class snobbery in the preferment of parents), Gilman won’t leave us hanging. Without settling, she finds the most satisfactory solution for a seemingly intractable impasse. But its success can’t sweeten the play’s indictment of parental extremes (the proverbial devil and the deep blue sea) or an understaffed, overwhelmed, sclerotic bureaucracy that’s hard-pressed to adjudicate a menu at McDonald’s.
As always, Goodman Theatre perfectly packages its latest Gilman world premiere, with Todd Rosenthal’s turntable set depicting half a dozen elaborately detailed rooms. Equally textured are the seven performances from a documentary-minded ensemble. No bravura acting here, just very recognizable people trapped by fears, rules and habits that demand repair. Fisher conveys that desperate improvisation with her usual hair-trigger accuracy, backed up by a cast who couldn’t be more contemporary.
Goodman Theatre’s Albert Theatre
scheduled to end on February 23, 2014
for tickets, call 312.443.3800
or visit www.GoodmanTheatre.org
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