Los Angeles Theater Review: LUNA GALE (Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City)

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by Tony Frankel on December 3, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

A REALLY GOOD LIFETIME MOVIE ON STAGE

Chicago Theater comes to L.A. lock, stock and barrel with the Goodman production of Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale.  A winning cast—led by the remarkable Mary Beth Fisher—and Robert Falls’ taut direction validate how Chicago artists can turn a problematic (though certainly engaging) script into a likeable and at times very exciting production. Despite a formulaic storyline, much like the crises in a Lifetime “issue” movie, and its stereotypical characters, this efficient two-act drama and its absorbing tale of the foster care system raises questions that are just as intriguing as its satisfactory resolution. While the script lacks profundity, some of its arguments will draw you in with force.

Colin Sphar and Reyna de Courcy in Rebecca Gilman’s LUNA GALE, directed by Robert Falls, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

A Chicago playwright and 2001 Pulitzer finalist, Ms. Gilman has written some 13 issue-packed social comedy/dramas and thrillers in the last two decades, yet only one that I know of has appeared in the City of Angels. Whether the subject is gender (Boy Gets Girl, which played at the Geffen in 2003), racism (Spinning into Butter), schadenfreude (The Sweetest Swing in Baseball), baby bearing (The Crowd You’re In With), or child abuse, sexual deviance and serial murder (The Glory of Living), Gilman’s highly accessible, intensely unflinching, occasionally eccentric, usually disturbing, and sometimes uneven plays include verbal fireworks, stimulating plots, and multifaceted themes that pull in the viewer. Often, you will find well-meaning liberals written with a feminist sensibility. Her characters are instantaneously identifiable to her audience, but once introduced, their actions often defy viewer’s expectations.

Mary Beth Fisher, Jordan Baker and Richard Thieriot in Rebecca Gilman’s LUNA GALE, directed by Robert Falls, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Welcome to Ms. Gilman’s newest agitation, Luna Gale. Mary Beth Fisher, who previously played a university dean coming to terms with her own racism in Spinning into Butter at the Goodman (1999), now depicts another authority figure caught in the crossfire: Already plagued with too many clients and too few resolutions in her child care cases, beleaguered social worker Caroline is a single woman who finds herself caught up in a custody battle with no easy outcome. She’s also battling her own demons as she faces the Solomonic choice of who is best to raise a child.

Erik Hellman and Mary Beth Fisher (Colin Sphar, obscured) in Rebecca Gilman’s LUNA GALE, directed by Robert Falls, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Gilman’s problem play asks us to take sides in a very ugly battle over the title baby. Luna’s parents, hyper Karlie (Reyna de Courcy) and calmer Peter (Colin Sphar) are slacker nightmares from the millennial shop of horrors—meth tweekers who can barely support themselves, let alone an unexpected offspring. Karlie’s mother Cindy (Jordan Baker), backed by her pastor Jay (Richard Thieriot), offers a nice home and safe surroundings, but this evangelical fanatic is also a “crazy Christian” (as Caroline imprudently calls her) who believes the Apocalypse is imminent, and her daughter is an unfit mother in a world that’s doomed. Caught in the bureaucratic cross hairs, which includes a God-fearing, unctuous boss Cliff (Erik Hellman), Caroline will confront a sickening dilemma—recovery versus Revelations.

Mary Beth Fisher, Richard Thieriot and Erik Hellman in Rebecca Gilman’s LUNA GALE, directed by Robert Falls, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Most successful here is the play’s indictment of parental extremes and an understaffed, overwhelmed, sclerotic bureaucracy that’s hard-pressed to adjudicate a menu at McDonald’s. Less successful is a subplot involving Caroline’s protégé Lourdes (Melissa DuPrey), a former ward now entering college with her own history of addiction that’s far from relegated to her past; since this character’s actions occur offstage, she becomes less entangled with the tale at hand and more a needless embodiment of the system’s limitations. Some of the scenes pack a wallop, but given Lourdes appearance and the many-scene structure, Ms. Gilman inadvertently interrupts her own impetus during the second act.

Melissa DuPrey and Mary Beth Fisher in Rebecca Gilman’s LUNA GALE, directed by Robert Falls, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

Fortunately, Goodman perfectly packages this world premiere at the Kirk Douglas Theatre on Todd Rosenthal’s turntable set depicting half a dozen elaborately detailed rooms. Equally textured are the seven performances from a documentary-minded ensemble. No bravura acting here, just very recognizable people trapped by fears, rules and habits that demand repair. Fisher conveys her desperation with hair-trigger accuracy, backed up by a cast as contemporary as the saga.

Colin Sphar in Rebecca Gilman’s LUNA GALE, directed by Robert Falls, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre. Photo by Craig Schwartz.

photos by Craig Schwartz

Luna Gale
a Goodman Theatre production
presented by Center Theatre Group
Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City
scheduled to end on December 21, 2014
for tickets, call 213.628.2772 or visit www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

{ 1 comment }

Tony Frankel January 19, 2015 at 8:43 am

A reader just informed me that Gilman has had two other LA productions besides Boy Gets Girl: The Glory of Living at the Victory in 2007 and The Sweetest Swing in Baseball by the West Coast Ensemble at the CAST in 2008.

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