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Renaissance Theaterworks’ ‘Luna Gale’ Probes the Human Drama

Jan. 23, 2017
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Renaissance Theaterworks’ production of Rebecca Gilman’s drama, Luna Gale, is an unflinching look into the timely issue of our country’s over-burdened foster care system and the nigh-impossible decisions social workers within it must make every day. As director Mary MacDonald-Kerr explains, “People who work in the trenches of fighting social ills don’t have time to get on soap boxes … The story unfolds quickly in front of us, we just need to absorb the events and hang on until it’s over—then we can try to form an opinion about what is right or wrong.” The characters share the common thread of being under enormous social, emotional and ethical strain and watching their lives play out does indeed feel like an edifying whirlwind.

This is helped along by a superb ensemble performance from the cast. Gilman’s dialogue is snappy, understated and realistic and all members of the cast did justice to this writing style. Tami Workentin is memorable in the lead role, Caroline, a social worker at the end of her career struggling to place an infant child of teenage meth-addict parents in the best possible situation. The situation is fuzzy—the parents, although addicts, are good and loving people; the seemingly idyllic grandmother strongly petitioning to terminate her daughter’s rights as a parent and gain custody, perhaps less so. Within this web of complexity, Workentin delivers a consistently nuanced character; Caroline’s exhaustion is always apparent, but so too are her dedication, experience and masked personal pain.

As the young couple, April Paul and Marques Causey do a good job conveying their own characters’ complexity, mutual love and seemingly well-researched depiction of methadone addiction. Laura Gray’s grandmother character is high-strung, intelligent and emotionally fragile. We can’t exactly like her, but thanks to great scripting and a rock-solid performance we cannot rule out her point of view either. As her pastor and advisor, Matt Daniels is a perfect mix of genuine caring sentiment and thinly veiled religious and social patriarchy. David Sapiro is wonderfully slimy as Caroline’s boss, and Solana Ramirez-Garcia compellingly fills out the cast as a former foster child who has aged out of the system and appears to be a success story until the realities of the adult world set in.

It would be remiss not to mention the striking production values of this minimal but very cleverly conceived show. Most impressive are Lisa Schlenker’s set pieces, which are few but succeed in evoking seven separate locations through clever devices like refrigerators mounted on tracks suspended from the ceiling.

The great thing about this show is that it is both focused and diffuse. The obvious subject matter is clearly the foster system, but look more closely and you find dynamics ranging from gender and family to societal and religious. Come to watch a smartly crafted and deftly executed story about a specific issue, and leave abuzz with a host of considerations related to humans’ impact on and responsibilities to other humans. 

Through Feb. 12 at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Studio Theatre,158 N. Broadway. For tickets, call 414-291-7800 or visit r-t-w.com.

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