The Ensemble Theater’s new season opened Wednesday night with Luna Gale, Rebecca Gilman’s unsettling look at the harsh dilemma of a social worker as she struggles to find the safest environment for an endangered infant, eponymously named Luna Gale. Caroline, beautifully played by Cincinnati’s talented Annie Fitzpatrick, struggles to determine the best environment for tiny Luna Gale, whose teen-aged meth-addicted parents cannot cope with their own lives, much less a baby’s.
“Luna Gale” raises the questions that exhausted social workers face every day, and, indeed, these are difficult questions to present effectively on the stage. Ensemble has chosen to begin its season with the best of challenges to audiences.
Directed by D. Lynn Meyers, the play tackles weighty social problems. Its two acts cut a swath through religious hypocrisy, domestic sexual abuse, and drug addiction. Meyers allows the action to move briskly along, aided by the set design of Brian C. Mehring. Scene changes flow seamlessly on a rotating stage that moves smoothly from waiting room to kitchen to office. Cold, even austere, settings echo the emotional tone of the play, though they fail to add dimensionality. At times, the set seems to resemble that of a daytime soap opera.
Caroline wrestles with whether Karlie and Peter, played by Molly Israel and Patrick E. Phillips, or Karlie’s zealous mother, Cindy (Kate Wilford) would provide better homes for Luna Gale, but surprising twists quickly upend the power struggle. In its series of well-paced developments, Luna Gale takes what appear to be obvious answers and turns them on their head.
The play itself is not without problems. Some of the characters occasionally seem like caricatures. The round-bellied fundamentalist preacher, Pastor Jay (Charlie Clark) tends toward cliché, and the character of the supervisor, Cliff (Brent Vimtrup) stretches credibility, particularly in his plot-convenient relationship with the preacher. A prayer session which Caroline manipulates to undermine Cliff’s power also stretches credibility.
Luna Gale ends its tragic tale on a complex note, neither fully happy nor sad, a believable resolution to the difficult questions it raises. The Ensemble Theater’s production of
is a social problem play that looks beneath the obvious for resolution. Don’t go to Luna Gale with the expectation of a casually fun night at the theater. But do go to enjoy the best of what serious art does: challenge, provoke thought, and even make us uncomfortable as it looks for the extraordinary within the ordinary.