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LUNA GALE presented by Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati through Sept. 27. Click here for more information on the production. I attended the opening night performance.
A sure sign that you’re thoroughly captivated by a play? Being surprised when the lights come up for intermission. That’s what happened to me with LUNA GALE. The over-burdened and under-funded social services system serves as a backdrop for this powerful and thought-provoking play by Rebecca Gilman.
Annie Fitzpatrick is engrossing and emotionally pitch-perfect in the demanding role of social worker Caroline. The central character that is nearly ever-present on stage. In her first scene, you immediately know who Caroline is…a weary and experienced social worker, starting a new case for infant Luna Gale. And that is who she is, but as the play progresses new facets of her emerge that surprise and touch me. I’m inspired by her inner strength and saddened by her loneliness.
With young adult roles to fill, director D. Lynn Meyers has cast three of ETC’s 2014-2015 acting interns. I find it exciting to see these young actors get their first professional roles locally. It’s great to be with them as they take that next step in their careers with such strong performances.
First is Molly Israel portraying Karlie, Luna’s drug-addicted mother, who I found very frustrating. The character, not the actress. With any vulnerability buried deeply behind a constantly-angry persona, I didn’t connect emotionally with her…apparently my compassion is tied to her effort. This lack of connection keeps me questioning the motive behind her decision at the end of the play.
Peter, Luna’s father, is played by Patrick E. Phillips. Peter is a people pleaser and that, in part, led to his drug use. The possibility of losing custody of Luna appears to be a wake up call for him. Phillips handles the maturing of the character over the two acts very convincingly.
Lourdes (Natalie Joyce) is one of Caroline’s cases, who is aging out of the foster system by turning 18. I enjoyed how each of their scenes together had a different awkwardness to them. Joyce handles the growing distance between the two believably.
Kate Wilford is spot on as Luna’s maternal grandmother, Cindy. I liked her immediately as she fretted over the details of taking in Luna. That is, until she shared her (extreme to me) religious beliefs. Let’s just say that recent events in Kentucky have that particular nerve close to the surface. This revelation brings another theme to the narrative and can polarize your view of what is best for Luna.
Brent Vimtrup is perfectly horrible as Cliff, Caroline’s passive-aggressive, condescending supervisor. Their interactions always turn combative and the intensity of their battle of wills is damn good theater.
Rounding out the cast is Charlie Clark as Pastor Jay. His performance pushed all the right buttons for me, and it’s probably better I don’t go into details about the why.
Brian c. Mehring’s rotating set is smartly designed, offering great versatility in creating the multiple (six if memory serves) locations. Property master Shannon Rae Lutz delivers believable spaces. Varies rooms include Cindy’s kitchen, Caroline’s office and the children’s play room. Great job by the stage crew who quickly and quietly took care of the changes.
Pulitzer-nominated script, excellent cast plus strong and sure direction make LUNA GALE a timely, emotionally-gripping and artistically-satisfying beginning to ETC’s 30th anniversary season.
My rating: 4.75 out of 5.
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