BWW Reviews: Goodman's LUNA GALE Makes Art of Everyday Lives
I'm going to warn you right now: The following reads as a love letter to Goodman Theatre's premiere production of Rebecca Gilman's new play, "Luna Gale". I'm finding it near impossible to write anything about this show without gushing. So, I've decided to just let it happen.
I left the theatre last night feeling moved, delighted, excited, and in awe. That distinct feeling theatre-goers are granted when we know we have just experienced magic on stage. That feeling of being grateful for having just been a small part of what these artists are doing.
What feels particularly rewarding about Gilman's masterful script is that this feeling is achieved through a story that is simply about people in real situations, not far from anything we know in our own lives. You needn't have gone through any of the same experiences as these characters (or even agree with their beliefs or ideals) to still relate to each one of them. This also happens to be the reason "Luna Gale" works the way it does; it's a perfect exploration of normal humans existing in our modern age, without the production relying any extra frills to keep people entertained.
There is a natural progression in the way in which information unravels throughout the show that proves to be more powerful than any sudden, dramatic reveals could provide. It's in moments when you don't necessarily know you are missing any information, until some new piece of the puzzle is revealed, that proves to be both a theatrical punch in the gut and, yet, perfectly realistic. Hand in hand with these natural revelations, audiences may find their initial feelings or investments in certain characters shift throughout the show, but not without feeling a longing for that initial trust and affection you once held for them (or, in contrast, hoping that your initial impressions don't creep in and prove to be true). It's these situations and connections in the play that imitate our real-life relationships, and constantly shifting feelings as we learn more and more about those around us, that make it unable to passively take in "Luna Gale."
And, on top of this, it does all the things a well-rounded play should do - ask important questions, blur the lines between right and wrong, provide for some genuine laughs - all while providing two hours of entertainment that I didn't want to end.
At the start of the play, we are introduced to Karlie (Reyna de Courcy) and Peter (Colin Sphar) (on an extremely creative, and highly functional, turntable set designed by Todd Rosenthal), two young parents waiting in a hospital to hear news of their sick baby, Luna Gale. Unlike Peter, who is passed out to the point of not being able to be roused, Karlie is jumpy, never-still, and clearly experiencing symptoms of drug-usage. Perhaps my first sign that this play would take a hold of its audiences came about five minutes into the show, when, despite there being nothing to indicate that we should like or trust Karlie in any way, the moment Karlie realizes the nurse talking to her is not in fact a nurse, but rather a social worker, my heart ached for her. And so, the emotional investment began.
That social worker turns out to be our heroine, Caroline, played by Mary Beth Fisher in a role she was born to play. At first coming off as a straight-laced, by-the-book professional, we soon learn Caroline carefully sets up this front to conceal the depth of care and concern she actually feels toward her clients. Fisher's expert crafting of Caroline (finding a way to let the audience in to her innermost feelings without betraying her tough exterior to her fellow characters), alone, is reason enough to brave this cold winter to make it to the theatre.
We then meet the cast of characters Caroline is currently surrounded by her in life, each as important to the telling of the story as the next: Karlie's mom, Cindy (Jordan Baker, who all at once portrays a character so sweet and endearing and yet threatening at the same time) who becomes a temporary foster parent of Luna's and who is intent on making sure she grows up with religion in her life; Cindy's pastor (Richard Thieriot, who perfects the eerily calm politeness of an extreme religious person who knows exactly what to say to make others feel like they are missing out on something); a newly-turned 18 year-old, former ward of Caroline's (Melissa DuPrey); and Cliff, Caroline's weasel-like supervisor (played by Erik Hellman, skillfully navigating each moment his character is able to assert himself in any way possible). This cast is so good there is likely to be at least one moment that each of them takes your breath away.
Robert Fall's excellent direction smartly lets the dialogue take the lead and maintains a balance of absolute commitment to the weight of the circumstances without ever passing into over-dramatizing. Falls creates the beautiful production this script deserves (which also happens to be one of the most polished and solid productions I have seen at Goodman).
It's not even a month into the year, but I feel certain that "Luna Gale" will prevail as one of the best shows in Chicago of 2014 and I wouldn't be surprised if Broadway producers snatched it up to play on the Great White Way in the future.
If you were fortunate enough to witness Steppenwolf's "Good People" in 2012 (the last time I remember being moved by a play in the way I was last night), you will be familiar with the post-show reactions of your fellow audience members. The wordless looks to friends while shaking your head with an excited look in your eye, many deep breaths after coming down such an emotional involvement, but, perhaps something I heard by someone on the way out says it best: "There's no escaping that."
Photo Credit: Liz Lauren
"Luna Gale" is currently playing through February 23rd at Goodman Theatre (170 N. Dearborn in Chicago). Tickets range from $25 - $81 and are available at GoodmanTheatre.org/Luna or by the calling the box office at (312) 443-3800.