Theater review: ‘Luna Gale’ at The Magnetic Theatre

HARD CHOICES: Kay Galvin plays an overburdened social worker in The Magnetic Theatre's 'Luna Gale.' Photo by Rodney Smith/Tempus Fugit

As the interim head of The Magnetic Theatre, Andrew Gall hasn’t wasted any time choosing strong works by women writers to fill the stage this year. Moving away from exclusively locally sourced playwrights, Gall chose to direct the powerful drama Luna Gale by Rebecca Gillman. It is the regional debut of this relatively new play by a powerful voice in contemporary theater. The show runs through Saturday, March 31.

It has been a long time since I’ve seen a play this unflinching in its depiction of deep social issues, from drug addiction and religious zealotry to the struggles of social services workers trying to do their jobs against seemingly impossible pressures and odds.

A meth-addicted couple have taken their sick baby to the hospital where Child Protective Services takes custody of the endangered child, the titular Luna. This starts a spiral of conflicts that propels the play along an often harrowing path. As the overworked and underappreciated caseworker Caroline, Kay Galvin is the center of the tempestuous tale. She finds herself wanting to redeem the parents and reunite them with their baby, and proves she is willing to go to great lengths to accomplish that goal.

Karen Covington-Yow turns in a great performance as Cindy, Luna’s grandmother. Her intentions seem pure, but Caroline finds Cindy’s evangelical leanings to be at odds with her own beliefs, introducing a bias to the proceedings. Covington-Yow’s real-life husband Mike Yow plays a smoothly measured pastor who begins to insert himself as an advocate for Cindy’s planned adoption.

Caroline’s boss, with whom she is often at odds, is played by Jon Stockdale. His own views on religion reveal that he is inclined to support Cindy’s bid for the baby, and he shows a willingness to rubber-stamp the whole process.

As the young couple, Emma Heisey and Lee Wilson give us a decidedly unsavory and unsympathetic look at drug addiction. Heisey, in particular, is disturbingly on point in her performance as Karlie. It is hard to watch as she disappears into a role that frustrates the audience who wants to root for her. It is exceptional work.

As Peter, Wilson is the more sympathetic of the two, and he shows signs of a willingness to follow the rules and get clean so he and Karlie can get Luna back. His journey is the most hopeful, and Wilson gives an inspiring performance.

Rounding out the cast is Carrie Kimbrell Kimzey as Lourdes, a girl Caroline helped through the foster care system since she was a baby. Lourdes appears to be a success story that Caroline clings to — perhaps too firmly — as she faces doubts about her effectiveness at her job.

Dark secrets are revealed, and ghosts of sins past rear their heads. There are no heroes, despite heroic efforts, strong convictions and actions that are often questionable. The script can be a little heavy-handed at times, laboring the message of how direly understaffed social workers are, as well as the emotional toll it takes on them, but it is also one of the most compelling and moving experiences I’ve had at the theater in a long time.

WHAT: Luna Gale by Rebecca Gillman
WHERE: The Magnetic Theatre, 375 Depot St., themagnetictheatre.org
WHEN: Through Saturday, March 31. Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. $16

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About Jeff Messer
playwright, actor, director and producer, Jeff Messer has been most recently known as a popular radio talk show host. He has been a part of the WNC theatre scene for over 25 years, and actively works with and supports most of the theatres throughout the region. Follow me @jeffdouglasmess

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