Above: Jacob Warner as Peter and Lucy Heffernan as Karlie. Below: Ebony Vagulans as Lourdes and Georgie Parker as Caroline. Photos by Phil Erbacher.
By Rebecca Gilman
Directed by Susanna Dowling
78 McDougall St,
Season: 7 September – 13 October. Bookings: (02) 9929 0644 or https://boxoffice.ensemble.com.au
It’s a scenario that is all too familiar: Infant babies born into a frightful environment of teenage parents who are hooked on a drug addiction.
Should society intervene? In what way? Who decides what is best for the child?
In Luna Gale, Rebecca Gilman has put these questions, and many others, to the audience. As expected, there are no simple answers. Most seemingly black and white solution has shades of grey and so society just does its best to grow the children to 18. At which point they can largely fend for themselves, we hope!
This story revolves around Luna Gale, the newborn to 19-year-old meth-addicts, Peter and Karlie. Luna is in Emergency Care at the hospital whilst her parents are confined to the waiting room. Karlie is agitated and upset, and Peter is ‘out of it’, completely oblivious to circumstance and surroundings. She makes him eat a handful of ‘Skittles’ in the hope that the chocolate fix will make him man-up to the very adult issue.
Finally, a social worker named Caroline enters the room and takes charge by telling Karlie and Peter that they are now subject to assessment. Baby Luna could well be placed in non-parental care if they don’t meet the department’s strict rehab and home-care requirements.
The next scene is at the home of Karlie’s mother Cindy. Cindy is discussing with Caroline her prospects of taking care of Luna and is very eager to be approved. Cindy presents like a stable and caring grandmother with a loving home environment: ideal for a baby like Luna.
This is the background for the struggle that ensues between the parents, the grandmother, the social worker, the department boss Cliff and the ‘system’. On the face of it, they have the best of intentions for the care of baby Luna.
And this is where Rebecca Gilman’s skilful writing creates further dynamics in the plot. You see, Cindy is a ‘born-again’ Christian who, with the help of Pastor Jay and Jesus, will give Luna the perfect environment before the Armageddon inevitably arrives.
Personal experiences, prejudices, instinct, childhood abuse, and even departmental budget constraints all come into play as each character manourvres their situation to win. Not for Luna but for themselves.
A sub-plot runs concurrently as Caroline also concludes the case of Lourdes, an 18-year-old now exiting the care system. She is somewhat of a ‘success story’ whose life without state support ends up surprising everyone, even Caroline.
There is little doubt that Director Susanna Dowling has assembled a terrific cast for this production.
Leading the way is Georgie Parker as Caroline. There is plenty of emotion and drama in this role for her. She has the sincerity and understanding that we suspect a social worker needs but can portray a hard demeanour when coping with bureaucratic nonsense.
Lucy Heffernan is outstanding as Karlie. It is a challenging role as she must confront the truth of sexual abuse, her anti-religious sentiments and her genuine love for Luna.
Michelle Doake shines as Cindy. A complex character to play, Michelle grasps the role well as someone living in denial of the dark side of a past relationship.
Jacob Warner tackles the role of Peter with vigour. From a position of no hope to the unexpected hero, Jacob wins the audience with his gawkiness, wit and determination to do the right thing.
The rest of the cast also master their characters brilliantly. Scott Sheridan as Cliff, David Whitney as Pastor Jay and Ebony Vagulans as Lourdes.
There is clever staging as we see fast and interesting set changes, from emergency ward to kitchen, to department office and then to cafeteria. The creative crew did their work admirably.
Also, there are lots of topical quotes in the play. One that I think sums up the paradoxes is when Caroline states “I love babies. That’s why I never had any”.
Luna Gale is a fine, contemporary drama. Its subject matter is controversial and ever-present. It deals with themes of despair, frustration, hopelessness, and doubt. But sprinkled throughout is humour and hope.
Each character has a unique viewpoint on the situation based on their personal backgrounds. The cast and crew have done their job well. Then it’s over to us, the audience, to grapple with questions such as “How far can you overstep the ‘rules’ when a baby’s welfare is concerned”? It’s a great discussion topic but it often winds up with agreement that “I just don’t know the answer”.
Luna Gale is a ‘must-see’ if you like a good drama which explores the endless array of human frailties.