Oct 19, 2019
There are only a few performances left in the run, but I encourage you to make the trip to Petaluma to see the outstanding production of Luna Gale at Cinnabar Theater. A thoughtful concept by a talented director, an affecting script (a Pulitzer finalist by award-winning American playwright Rebecca Gilman), creative production elements and a superb cast make for a riveting, engaging evening of theatre— definitely one of the best I’ve seen so far this season.
Pick up your phone now to reserve your seats for one of the remaining shows.
Playwright Gilman often tackles thorny issues in contemporary society in her plays, but what may seem very specific at first ends up being universal in the ethical questions that arise. In Luna Gale, a pair of 19-year-old parents land in bureaucratic hot water when they bring their ill baby to the ER, and a social worker, alert to signs of possible neglect, determines they are drug users and takes charge of the baby. Carlie (Miranda Jane Williams) and Peter (Zane Walters) protest in vain as their baby is transferred by social worker Caroline (Liz Jahren) to the home of Carlie’s mother, Cindy (Gina Alvarado).
Turns out Cindy and Carlie haven’t gotten along for over five years when Carlie’s grades and behavior slipped into danger zones and mom swears she did her best to save her. Caroline’s home visits reveal the mother’s evangelical religious fervor, including consultation with Pastor Jay (James Pelican), a persuasive guide. Caroline also deals with her department supervisor, budget-conscious Cliff (John Browning), at turns supportive or annoying, who objects to Caroline’s goal of “reunification” based on her gut feelings about Cindy, Carlie and Peter.
A side story of 18-year-old Lourdes (Kellie Donnelly) illuminates the limits of bureaucratic intervention as we see Caroline’s attempts to support the girl’s transition from foster care to college and adult life. As revelations pile up, Caroline’s goal of reunification for Peter and Carlie seems doomed, until gut feelings become manipulation of the process— and then it all breaks loose in unplanned ways, serving up even more questions about a broken system. It’s a tough text, not without humor, but unflinching in its examination of hard issues. No answers, no pat solutions, no neat endings, but a carefully balanced plate of dilemmas and vulnerabilities.
The cast keeps characters achingly real, veering away from caricature or criticism of their beliefs and habits. Williams gives a tremendous performance as conflicted Carlie; her anguish over possibly losing her child for good is painfully palpable. Walters rises above stereotype to deliver a nuanced portrayal of a young man earnest and torn. Jahren’s journey as do-gooder Caroline keeps us on a roller coaster of emotions and ethics, without hesitation or apology for her zeal. The whole ensemble works for honesty and authenticity.
A stunning scenic design by David Lear and subtle lighting by Wayne Hovey combine with exquisite sound design by Albert Casselhoff to create a flexible, attractive backdrop for the action. Ellen Howes’ costume design creates signature outfits for each character and adds white lab coats for occasions when actors become scenery, supplying set dressing or handing properties onstage. While potentially distracting, the effect of seeing characters at the edge of scenes grew on me, as if they pay silent witness to conversations about themselves.
Director Jessica Litwak keeps a crisp pace and creates moving tableaux at the beginning and end that aim to elucidate the text. The opening movement introduces us to characters and relationships, but the ending movement, while well-executed, confuses the audience as to when the play really ends.
That didn’t seem to matter too much at the performance I attended when the audience leaped to a standing ovation once the bows began. — Jeanie Smith
Tickets: $30-42; Senior, Under-30, and Under-18 discounts
Cinnabar Theater 3333 Petaluma Blvd. North Petaluma, CA 94952
Photos by Eric Chazankin
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