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Renaissance Theaterworks’ ‘Luna Gale’ Explores Drug Abuse, Family and the Foster Care System

Jan. 17, 2017
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Renaissance Theaterworks’ next production in its “Secrets and Lies”-themed season is Luna Gale, a recent work by Rebecca Gilman exploring the complexities of our country’s foster care system. Director Mary MacDonald-Kerr describes the plot: “Luna Gale is the story of a social worker who is facing the end of her emotional resources, the end of a long career of putting out fires, running into brick walls, settling for almost enough.” The story also includes “a baby girl named Luna, her teenage meth addict parents and her lonely Christian grandmother. The play examines the pitfalls and heartbreaks of the foster care system, the cyclical nature of abuse and the grey area that the system has to function within to make any forward progress. The topic is serious, but the writing is often funny, dry and unsentimental,” says MacDonald-Kerr.

A superb ensemble of performers and technical artists populate the production. Milwaukee theater veteran Tami Workentin tackles the meaty role of the social worker grappling with the story’s central ethical dilemma, while rising stars April Paul and Marques Causey take on the roles of Luna’s young parents. Laura Gray, David Sapiro, Solana Ramirez-Garcia and Matt Daniels fill out the cast. On the production side, look for an ingenious set by Lisa Schlenker, whom MacDonald-Kerr praises for meeting the challenge of the play’s seven locations within the Broadway Theatre Center’s 99-seat Studio Theatre. Asked about Luna’s visual elements, MacDonald-Kerr notes that the set is “inspired by the idea of Caroline (the social worker) being a cog in the machine of the foster care system, caught on a treadmill-like cycle of problems. The set pieces all live on stage, being pulled in and out of place by the actors as the story unfolds.” 

Gilman is known for her issue-oriented plays which focus on problems that audiences might not otherwise consider, generating dialogue about complex and timely social mores rather than vindicating any single perspective. MacDonald-Kerr states, “Societal problems, by definition, belong to all of us. I believe it is the responsibility of theaters and theater artists to require society to pay attention to these issues.” Surely the U.S.’s already under-funded foster system is worth our attention as we move into an administration that has promised record cuts to social safety net programs. Likewise, the methamphetamine crisis continues to destroy countless lives. Although the opioid epidemic receives more press in Wisconsin, the availability and abuse of meth remains deeply troubling as well.

Of the story’s import to audiences today, MacDonald-Kerr says, “We [the ensemble] all agree that no character should be considered the villain in the story, that all sides of the problem are valid, and we’ve worked hard to maintain that perspective.” She continues, “There are morally ambiguous decisions made along the way. I hope audiences leave the theater in heated discussions about what they would do, could do, should do in the same situation.”

Renaissance Theaterworks’ Luna Gale opens Friday, Jan. 20 and runs 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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