Lexi Lapp & David McElwee in Luna Gale.
Photo by Bill Brymer
By Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Les Waters
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents copyright © 2015 by Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved
As techno music plays and the stage lights come up in the Pamela Brown Theatre the audience is presented with an antiseptic, industrial brick wall with large windows and a set of chairs. It is here that Peter (David McElwee) is crashed out, slumping over the chairs while Karlie (Lexi Lapp) is jumping all over the room occasionally rummaging through a bag of junk food or talking on the phone. This is a hospital ER and this young couple is there because their daughter, Luna Gale, is sick. Unfortunately, Peter and Karlie are too.
After a few frantic moments a woman comes into the waiting room and approaches the young couple and asks questions about Luna Gale and her reason for being in the hospital. Karlie tries her best to come up with consistent answers and realizes that the woman asking questions is a social worker by the name of Caroline Cox. Upon being told that Luna Gale will be taken from her Karlie is devastated and, out of desperation, calls her mother, Cindy.
It is from this brief synopsis that emerges one of the most blunt, meaningful, and realistic plays that I have seen in the more than 30 years that I have been attending Actors Theatre. It offers its audience a roller coaster of feelings and emotions: pity, doubt, hatred, happiness, empathy…. the list goes on.
Caroline Cox, played with gusto by Wendy Rich Stetson, is a social worker with decades of experience in who wants what is best for all of her clients, but, unfortunately, because of a crowded system, isn’t always able to accomplish that. Upon first impression the best option or Luna was to go to Cindy (Rebecca Hart), Karlie’s single mother. Cindy overcomes many hurdles to care for her granddaughter and shares with Caroline her disappointment in Karlie.
Caroline’s desire to do what is right for her clients is manifest in the odd hours she works and her efforts to stay in touch with those children that have “graduated” out of the system. One such person is Lourdes (Emma Ramos), a young woman who reached adulthood and was about to start college. Caroline is exceptionally happy for Lourdes’ positive direction but still asks to be her ICE: In Case of Emergency. contact She is willing to go above and beyond for her kids.
Upon a house visit to Cindy to check on Luna Gale, Caroline is introduced to Pastor Jay (Todd Lawson), Cindy’s Evangelical pastor, who, in working with an attorney in their parish, discusses with Caroline Cindy’s desire to adopt Luna Gale and for Peter and Karlie to terminate parental rights. Through clever red tape and convincing of her boss Cliff (admirably played by Gregory Maupin), she is able to delay the adoption. Despite Cindy’s disappointment, Caroline wants to work with Karlie and Peter so that they may get Luna Gale back in their own custody. Caroline knows what needs to be done and what needs to be said in order for this to happen and persuades Peter and Karlie to play along. We later learn that there isn’t much playing to it.
Rebecca Gilman’s writing is impressive in how thoroughly the character’s background stories revealed so much, and how carefully these histories laid the pathways to their own personal drives and biases.
Luna Gale is an indictment of how government-run social services work. It is a case study in extreme belief systems. It is a play about a mother’s love: difficult, exhilarating, scary, blind. Redemption and perseverance in overcoming difficult situations permeate the action throughout. Heartbreak is commonplace too. But we all want a happy ending don’t we?
Standout performances by the aforementioned Wendy Rich Stetson and Lexie Lipp, who convinced me she WAS Karlie, by her organic mannerisms and manic energy. Rebecca Hart’s Cindy was entertaining but emotionally complex, just as she should be. Emma Ramos’ Lourdes was played with caution and abandon (perfect for the character). In their supporting roles, Gregory Maupin and Todd Lawson, while not on stage often, provided the audience with hilarity and gasps, with the utmost of ease. Lastly, David McElwee, thank you for playing Peter with such sweet heart and soul.
October 6 – 25, 2015
Actors Theatre of Louisville
316 West Main Street
Louisville, Kentucky 40202
Annette Skaggs is a heavily involved Arts Advocate here in Louisville and freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York Opera and Northwestern University. She has a 25+ year knowledge of the Classical Arts.