The potentially dull subject matter of an infant’s custody battle becomes a field of provocative questions in the play “Luna Gale.” Currently on stage in the Allen Theatre, “Luna Gale” is the story of an out-of-wedlock baby and the trauma of figuring out what is best for her. The focus first is on the parents. As unmarried parents who more than dabble in drugs, Peter and Karlie are ill-equipped to raise a child. A visit to the emergency room of a hospital brings social worker Caroline into the picture.
As it turns out, Karlie’s mom, an extreme fundamentalist born-again Christian, can care for Baby Luna, but almost immediately appeals for full custody against the wishes of Karlie. She is influenced by a pastor who has an “inside connection” at the welfare agency. As directed by Austin Pendleton, all of the characters present their best, but everyone has flaws, which are painfully obvious as the play unfolds. Central to the plot is social worker Caroline. Her instincts are to not write off the parents, while her boss, a wonderfully passive-aggressive bully, suggests otherwise.
The cast is uniformly successful in bringing the complex characters to life. Playwright Rebecca Gilman knows that you can’t reduce a person to the simple label of “drug addict,” “crazy Christian” or “social worker.” Pendleton’s direction moves all of the action down to the audience. No performer is ever more than 10 feet from the front of the stage. The play’s multiple locations have blurry edges and spill over one into the other. This reflects the gray areas of the characters who occupy them.
How much you enjoy “Luna Gale” depends on your willingness to consider the questions that the play presents. The 120-minute intermissionless running time has a surprising number of laughs, which helps to relieve tension. They are a welcome release. “Luna Gale” runs through March 20. The language and situations make it a poor choice for children.