Alfred Hitchcock popularized the term “MacGuffin” to describe objects or events that took place in his films that were necessary to begin the plot and motivate the characters but were essentially irrelevant. It may be harsh to refer to a baby as a MacGuffin, but the title character in Luna Gale, running through
Oct. 27 at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater, is just that.
She’s the newborn of meth-addicted parents Karlie (Miranda Jane Williams) and Peter (Zane Walters). After bringing their baby into an emergency room, they’re met by Caroline (Liz Jahren), a social worker who informs them the baby will be taken out of their custody while they receive treatment for their addiction. Faced with the choice of placing the infant in foster care or with Karlie’s mother Cindy (Gina Alvarado), Caroline recommends placement with the child’s grandmother—a decision she soon regrets.
Cindy, an evangelical Christian, seeks to gain full custody of the child with the support of her influential pastor (James Pelican). Caroline thinks the mother’s move will ruin her daughter’s recovery, but Cindy thinks Karlie’s a lost cause. She wants to save the child (in more ways than one).
Overworked and out of time as her tight-laced boss (John Browning) supports Cindy’s request, Caroline devises a plan to stall the custody hearing. Will this agnostic sell her soul to save three others?
Playwright Rebecca Gilman delivers a devastating portrayal of the underfunded and frequently unavailable social services world. Our nation talks a good game when it comes to the treatment of damaged individuals, but often fails to deliver.
Director Jessica Litwak brings a stylish directorial approach to the material that, while visually interesting, detracts from the text. The show opens and closes with movement pieces, and cast members dressed in lab coats act as shelves, flag poles, etc. when not in a scene. Rather than absorb what’s being said, one ponders why there’s an arm sticking out of the refrigerator holding a banana.
When not scenery, the cast acts the hell out of the script. Jahren gives a towering performance as the social worker exhaustively swimming against the tide of an entrenched bureaucracy. Williams and Walters effectively portray the troubled parents. Pelican gives an interestingly restrained performance as the church leader.
Not as depressing as it sounds, Luna Gale pays tribute to all those fighting the good fight—professionally and personally. There’s still hope.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
‘Luna Gale’ runs through Oct. 27 at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. Fri–Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $20–$32. 707.763.8920.