BWW REVIEW: LUNA GALE Is A Captivating And Confronting Story Of Trying To Serve The Best Interests Of An At Risk Infant
Saturday 15th September 2018, 8:15pm Ensemble Theatre
Deciding the best interests of a dangerously ill infant plays out in the confronting story of LUNA GALE. Susanna Dowling's presentation of Rebecca Gilman's middle American story holds a relevance as the events that unfold in Iowa could well be an Australian story of stretched social services, meth addicted parents and sanctimonious religious zealots.
The premise of LUNA GALE, which is making its Australian Premiere, is that veteran social worker Caroline Cox (Georgie Parker) must decide who is the best person to care for Luna Gale, an infant suffering from extreme dehydration who has been rushed to the emergency department of an Iowa hospital. Her 19 year old parents Karlie (Lucy Heffernan) and Peter (Jacob Warner) are coming down from a crystal meth hit and survive on Karlie's waitressing job in a filthy home. Her grandmother, Karlie's mother is a church going nursing aid who seems like the logical solution but the prospect of kinship care being given to a woman that wants to impose her religious views on the infant against Karlie and Peter's wishes triggers warning bells for Caroline. Whilst Caroline has extensive experience and believes reuniting Luna with her parents is the best possible outcome her plans to implement a rehabilitation and care program is derailed by a new manager, the ambitious and obnoxious Cliff (Scott Sheridan) and equally untrustworthy Pastor Jay (David Whitney), Cindy's religious guide.
Whilst the story moves between the hospital, the restaurant in which Karlie waits tables and the respective homes where Luna could live Set and Costume designer Simone Romaniuk has chosen to replicate the social services building as the base set design. The bleak government building that hasn't undergone an upgrade in decades is presented with damaged and patched linoleum, paneled walls typical of office fit outs. Sliding panels and changes in the window reveal extra components that represent the other spaces in the work. Romaniuk's costume design is relatively simple given the contemporary real world setting but contains enough detail to show the character progression of the younger members of the tale. Karlie and Peter first appear as unkept grungy deadbeats and gradually clean up their appearance as they straighten out their lives in order to get Luna back. The 18 year old Lourdes, one of Caroline's other cases transitioning out of care transforms from a reserved teen to a more worldly young woman enjoying her freedom now that she is out of foster care and can reconnect with her long lost sister.
The work is confronting and surprisingly elicits a quite audible response from the audience when they clue in to Cindy's manipulative plans to get custody of her granddaughter and the revelations that she really isn't as caring as she'd like the world to believe. Doake ensures that Cindy is first seen as saccharine before her claws come out in a most unchristian manner despite her having found god 7 years prior. Whilst Cindy, like most of the other characters, aren't well fleshed out, Doake makes sure it is sickeningly clear that Cindy is greatly to blame for Karlie's descent into drugs and escaping the overbearing clutches of Cindy's newfound faith but Cindy refuses to acknowledge any responsibility or see that it should affect her ability to gain custody of her grandchild.
Scott Sheridan and David Whitney ensure that Cliff and Pastor Jay are equally as awful in their support of Cindy's pursuit regardless of Luna's best interests, bullying Caroline into compliance and overbearing pushing of their religion. As with Cindy, Cliff and Pastor Jay are presented as suspiciously nice but eventually their actions serve as a warning about trusting people that will blindly follow a belief that prayer will fix everything.
Lourdes is a smaller role but Ebony Vagulans ensures that she is presented with hope and innocence. She has a bright eagerness to experience a world outside of the system and the bond with Caroline is touching whilst also serving to reinforce that Caroline naturally gets connected to her work, regardless of policies that aim to keep relationships professional and objective. Vagulans' ability to quickly endear herself to the audience ensures that they are invested in her story even if she is a side story to Luna's.
Lucy Heffernan and Jacob Warner capture the troubled young parents wonderfully, presenting the fear that they will lose their child permanently. Warner ensures that Peter is the quieter of the couple, presenting a calm force in contrast to Karlie's volatility which Heffernan expresses with force to ensure that the audience know that both Karlie and Peter are not inherently bad people. Warner presents Peter with a greater optimism that they'll get Luna back whilst Heffernan ensures that it is clear that Karlie harbors pent up anger and resentment towards her mother and therefore a disbelief that Caroline is really going to help them.
The center of the story, rests with Caroline, the woman able to influence Luna's fate and Georgie Parker presents her with an understated honesty that captures a fatigue of working with a stretched social welfare system whilst genuinely wanting to protect children. Parker ensures that Caroline is presented with the strength required to deal with the desperate situations a case worker faces on a daily basis whilst also exhibiting her vulnerabilities with a raw sensitivity that provokes a strong response from the audience that seemed like they were itching to defend her from the overbearing preacher.
LUNA GALE is a powerful piece of theatre that elicits strong responses from the audience not often heard so prominently in a theatre. Whilst set in Iowa with American accents throughout it could quite easily be an Australian story. The challenge of drug addiction destroys many lives in our own cities and it is unlikely that our social welfare system would be much better equipped that that portrayed. Whilst presented to a predominantly more better off socio-economic group than that portrayed, this production will hopefully open people's eyes to the need to support people and programs that are prepared to protect children and the vulnerable.
7 September - 13 October 2018