Goodman Theatre. By Rebecca Gilman. Directed by Robert Falls. With Mary Beth Fisher, Jordan Baker, Colin Sphar, Reyna de Courcy, Erik Hellman, Melissa DuPrey, Richard Thieriot. 2hrs 10mins; one intermission.
Theater review by Kris Vire
A massive, skewed-perspective drop ceiling of dreary acoustical tiles and harsh flourescent lights looms over Todd Rosenthal's impressive revolving set for Rebecca Gilman's new play. It's an appropriate symbolic representation of the massive bureacracy and procedural imbroglio that weigh on the fate of the unseen title character.
"Luna Gale, minor child," as she's referred to in her Iowa DHS case file, is the infant daughter of teenage parents—and meth addicts—Karlie (Reyna de Courcy) and Peter (Colin Sphar). When they bring a sick and dehydrated Luna into the ER, the state steps in in the form of seasoned social worker Caroline Cox (Mary Beth Fisher, firing on all cylinders).
Caroline does what seems like the obviously right thing: She keeps Luna out of foster care by putting her in "kinship care" with Karlie's mother, Cindy (Jordan Baker), while getting Karlie and Peter on track to regain custody. But an overburdened system and Cindy's unspoken motives set in motion a chain of events that ultimately finds Caroline stepping far outside ethical boundaries to try and make things right.
Gilman teases out the action carefully and compellingly; you can't get too comfortable deciding whose side you're on in this mess before another twist of motivation makes you reconsider. The playwright does quite the clever job of keeping us both guessing and enthralled while touching on considerations of religion (Cindy is an evangelical Christian, which Karlie and Caroline are very pointedly not), class and where priorities lie in an overloaded system of social services.
Director Robert Falls establishes the perfect rhythm in a very intelligently paced staging that's largely free of extraneous bells and whistles, letting his terrific ensemble (which also includes Richard Thieriot as Cindy's unctuous pastor, Erik Hellman as Caroline's adversarial supervisor and Melissa DuPrey as a newly "aged-out" former foster child) have at Gilman's high-stakes scenario and brisk, often very funny dialogue.
Baker, de Courcy and Sphar are each splendid as the major parties fighting over Luna's future, approaching their characters with empathy and honesty and without judgment. And Fisher is superb as Caroline, bogged down and nearly burned out by red tape but still striving to do what's right, whatever that is. But in the best work I've seen from Gilman, everyone thinks they're doing the right thing; they just have vastly different ideas of what it is.