Luna Gale, the sun around whom all the characters in Rebecca Gilman’s impressive Bay Area premiere play rotates, is the only one we never see. That’s because Luna Gale is an infant, the focus of a custody battle between her meth-addicted young parents Carlie and Peter, and Carlie’s “crazy Christian” mother, Cindy. Stage-managing this unfortunately common family tragedy is an exhausted but well-meaning and sympathetic social worker, Caroline (excellent Jamie Jones, Mud Blue Sky, Gidion’s Knot, A Delicate Balance).
All the participants in this heartfelt drama have their own personal prejudices and histories that distort their views of what’s in the best interests of little Luna.
Carlie (Alix Cuadra) and Peter (Devin S. O’Brien), love their child, but appear unable to care for her properly, at least until they complete counseling and drug treatment (if these programs had spaces available, which they do not). Grandmother Cindy (Laura Jane Bailey, Mud Blue Sky), a divorced nurse assistant, is eager to step in and care for Luna, and initially appears capable and mature.
Yet Cindy is over-involved with her evangelical church and is expecting the rapture and the end of days. She is in the thrall of her Pastor Jay (Kevin Kemp), who has his own agenda. And agnostic social worker Caroline makes her religious differences with Cindy stark when she laughingly explains mishearing Cindy’s statement that Jesus is her “personal savior” as her “personal trainer.” And the influence of religious conviction creeps inappropriately into Caroline’s office life in the person of her young ambitious nick-picking superior (Joshua Marx).
In a plot twist that uncomfortably ends the first act, Caroline may have perceived something darkly sexual in the past, which might explain the hostility between Cindy and Carlie. Or perhaps Caroline is merely manufacturing a reason to safeguard a chance at custody for the young parents.
Despite the plethora of imperfect personalities who populate Luna Gale, it is Caroline who captures our hearts. A devoted public servant, who for 25 years has been fighting the good fight against bureaucratic babble and ever-dwindling budgets, and with no partner or family of her own, Caroline nevertheless maintains her compassion, her moral compass and her dry humor. Award-winning playwright Rebecca Gilman (Artistic Associate, Goodman Theatre, Chicago, The Glory of Living, Spinning Into Butter) has created in Caroline, a complex modern hero, complete with her own tragic flaw, who daily must make momentous decisions over the futures of families. This is a fabulous part for Jamie Jones, and she makes the most of it.
Aurora Artistic Director Tom Ross expertly directs this two-act play, which is perfectly suited to the intimate Aurora Theatre. There is nothing more exciting and enveloping than being close to the actors, and the acting is uniformly excellent. The performances are controlled and compelling. The creative two-tier file box set design (Kate Boyd) is effective and the numerous scene changes work smoothly.
Luna Gale is a rich and touching exploration of the ordeals that occur daily among troubled and troubling families in our country. This meaningful production, with its ultimate message of hope, stayed with me long after I left the theatre.
Luna Gale runs through Oct. 1. For information, extended performance dates and tickets, visit Aurora Theatre’s website.