Harsh, fluorescent lights hit the stage with enough force to stop a million semi-trucks. The set? An average-looking government office building which doubles as an emergency waiting room. Two teenaged meth addicts sit anxiously in worn out chairs, binging on sugar as a poor proxy for their other addiction, waiting to talk to an overworked government employee like prisoners anticipating their sentence. And I knew this wasn’t going going to be a show where things work themselves out, and where heartache doesn’t kill.
Throughout the highly engaging plot of “Luna Gale”, we witness the painful reality of two teenagers, Karlie (Reyna de Courcy) and Peter (Colin Sphar), labeled addicts and parents, titles that are not meant to go together. However, they are committed to seeing their government-paid social worker Caroline (Mary Beth Fisher). While they struggle to kick their addiction, which started from the stress of working minimum wage jobs to support their newborn daughter Luna, it is clear that the two parents want so badly to raise their daughter. The mere fact that they are making the effort of going to support groups shows their unwavering love for their daughter. And the best part about it is that Caroline sees that. There are so many reasons for her to dismiss them as irresponsible and worthless, but she recognizes potential in them. She trusts them and admires their honesty. And from the beginning, she doesn’t want to give up on them.
When Karlie’s extremely religious mother Cindy (Jordan Baker) threatens to petition for permanent adoption of Luna, Caroline senses something unsettling about her. While Cindy is seemingly perfect, with a responsible job as a nurse at the local hospital, an adequate home, and prior experience with raising a child, something about her tells Caroline that she is not right. It is not until the second act that we find out Karlie was abused by Cindy’s then husband, and that Cindy knew about it but did nothing. And only because of Caroline’s unwavering 6th sense that this truth is revealed.
Perhaps the most heartbreaking scene is told by Karlie: the story of how she was raped by her stepfather. She leaves out no detail, from the drive out to the secluded dirt road, to her head up against the windshield, to her bloodstained skirt that her mother noticed the second she got home. It had me at the edge of my seat, holding back tears and whatever else. It was brutal, but it was reality. Especially as a women, it was all the more heartbreaking because while all of us may not have has these experiences, many women have. 1 in 6 woman, to be more specific. What I really liked about this show was Gillman’s use of strong (while flawed) female characters, and her calling out rape culture and the perpetuation of rape culture, as shown by the ignorance of Karlie’s mother. All of Gillman’s characters pass the Bechdel Test, where two female characters talk about something other than a man, which is very refreshing and long overdue.
However, “Luna Gale” read more like a long tv drama than a play to me. Maybe it was the quick dialogue, or perhaps it was just the fluorescent lights of the set, but it felt like a collaboration of fast-paced (but well-written) scenes strung together, trying to be a play. It’s not a bad thing, but it just didn’t feel like theater. Moreover, Mary Beth Fisher’s performance felt a little too calculated. There were two or three opportunities for her to be completely vulnerable, for her to get lost in the scene and lose herself. And for the most part, she did. She was so close, and maybe I’m missing it, but I just didn't feel it enough to connect with her.
I had two favorite parts of the whole show: Peter, and the final scene, and they both came together like they were meant for each other. Perhaps the only male character with an arc, Peter was dedicated and determined throughout the whole show. When Karlie leaves him toward the end, he doesn’t give up. Usually it’s the other way around, the father leaves and the mother is left to raise the child, so I appreciated Gillman’s role reversal. The final scene ends with Peter and Luna, finally alone, together. He sings her a lullaby, off-key, filled with boundless love. And even though none of the characters have happy endings in this show, including Peter, there is hope for Luna, this new life, or at least the possibility of hope.