Following closely upon its satire of Big Pharma, Rx, Boca Stage now takes a jaundiced look at the bureaucracy of the social safety net in Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale.
At the play’s center is a stressed-out, overburdened Cedar Rapids social worker named Caroline, whose caseload includes meth addicts Karlie and Peter, parents of the title baby. We first encounter them in an ER waiting room, where a comatose Peter is being force fed Skittles by his high-as-a-kite mate, hardly an argument for them as responsible guardians of the tot.
Caroline is adamant that they enter rehab or lose all legal rights to little Luna. That is, until she meets the alternative –– Karlie’s fervently evangelical Christian mom, Cindy. And when Cindy files for custody of her granddaughter, straight-arrow Caroline invents a lie to prevent that from happening.
There are other characters –– a college-bound graduate of the foster care system, Caroline’s budget-obsessed, under-qualified boss and a minister who advocates for Cindy –– but only Caroline is fully fleshed out and three-dimensional. That disparity in the writing is further accentuated in Boca Stage’s severely uneven production, where only Jacqueline Laggy’s Caroline is persuasively performed and too many of the other cast members come off as simply amateurish.
Gilman piles on the dramatic plot twists to this seemingly no-win bureaucratic battle, challenging the audience to pick sides and switch allegiances as previously unexpressed details are revealed. Despite director Keith Garsson’s unsure rendering of the play, it still manages to be effective, even as it seems clear that the material could have far more theatrical impact.
Among Luna Gale’s tangents is the matter of Lourdes, an 18-year-old who successfully worked her way through the social care system, thanks to Caroline’s guidance and encouragement. Her purpose in the play seems to be as a contrast to the unsalvageable Karlie, until Lourdes’s college career takes a dark turn. Her story is a valid element of the social system, but the role is too sketchy to come off a anything but melodramatic.
The same goes for the injection of faith into the disposition of Luna Gale’s case, shaded by Caroline’s anti-religious attitude, which is diametrically opposed to Cindy’s zealotry. This, like the rest of the production, is saved only by Laggy’s empathetic portrayal. Among the handful of effective scenes is one where she is pressured to pray in her workplace by her boss and Cindy’s pastor.
Gilman is a frequently produced playwright, whose works include Spinning into Butter and Boy Gets Girl, scripts that place theatergoers in the middle of moral issues. While Luna Gale is very much in that tradition, it calls for a more nuanced delivery than it receives from Boca Stage.
LUNA GALE, Boca Stage at Sol Theatre, 3333 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton. Through Sun., March 13. $45-$50. 866-811-4111 or visit bocastage.org.