Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The play begins in an emergency room waiting room as teens Karlie and Peter wait to get some answers about the illness of their baby daughter Luna. Karlie is strung out and Peter is basically comatose due to their drug consumption, so Department of Human Services' social worker Caroline tells them that they will need to get into rehab and clean up their act if they ever want to get their daughter back. Karlie's mother Cindy gets temporary custody of Luna, though her religious views and feelings that her daughter will never get better strike Caroline as odd, especially since she believes that parents should always want was is best for their children and have faith in them. When Cindy presses for full custody of Luna it sets in motion a series of events, lies and truths that pit mother against child, and exposes how parents, government, and the church all have the ability to ultimately fail in providing for the welfare of our children.
Gilman's play has plenty of twists and unpredictable turns and is filled with nuanced and realistic characters. Director Duane Daniels does an expert job at making sure the realism of the story and characters is well played by his talented cast. As Caroline, Lindsey Gemme is exceptional in getting across this frenzied, frazzled, overwhelmed and overworked social worker who suffers from an endless stream of red tape, policies, and non-stop bureaucracy. Gemme delivers a wide range of emotions from compassion to fear, sorrow and regret, and everything in between, in showing Caroline's desperation to save all of the people and children who make up her case work.
From portraying the range of side effects of their drug habit to exhibiting a heartfelt abundance of care for each other and their daughter, both Cheyanne Ballou and Xavier Jacob Morris realistically and beautifully exhibit both offensive behavior, when we first meet them, and empathy, as Karlie and Peter. Ballou expertly gets across the strung out and skittish teenage girl while Morris is excellent in a both scene in which he has to relay a story from the past and also the ending, which is both beautiful and heartbreaking.
DeAnna Robbins is great as the opinionated Cindy, who thinks her daughter doesn't take responsibility and believes that her religious views outweigh the rights of her daughter. Robbins' facial expressions and body language portray the conflicted feelings Cindy has, especially when she is confronted by the truth of the past. BJ Garrett is excellent as Caroline's supervisor who has his own hidden agenda. In smaller but pivotal roles, Ashley Naftule and Sarah Pansing are very good, respectively, as Cindy's pastor and a young woman who just recently graduated out of the foster care program.
Daniels' set design uses just a few pieces of furniture to quickly and effectively establish the location of each scene. The sound design by Emma Walz is excellent, with well-chosen songs for the scene changes.
Gilman has written a well-crafted play that shows how knee-jerk reactions, gut feelings, religious views and bureaucracy are pitted against each other in the tug of war over a child. Space 55's production of Luna Gale has a superb cast who portray a range of characters that challenge our initial views on drug addicts and religious zealots while also expertly showing how the overburdened world of social workers is filled with both hope and hopelessness and a nonstop barrage of moral challenges.
Luna Gale, through March 4, 2018, at Space 55, 1524 N. 18th Avenue, Phoenix AZ. Tickets and information can be found at Space55.org.
Written by Rebecca Gilman
Cast: (in alphabetical order)