Rebecca Gilman’s dramatic play, “Luna Gale,” making its Boston premiere at Stoneham Theatre, couldn’t be more timely. In this sad era of drug addiction, strung-out young parents, infanticide and understaffed, overworked social services, the playwright takes a dramatic, hard look at these issues.
For the past several months, the world shuddered, reading the horrible story of Bella Bonds, the toddler who was murdered by her mother’s boyfriend, her body stored in a refrigerator, then dumped, in a trash bag, in a desolate area.
The case unearthed a rampant sickness in our system- lack of protective social services and closer monitoring of hundreds of at-risk children.
Gilman doesn’t try to solve these problems. She doesn’t state right from wrong. She doesn’t place blame, either. She presents the case of a teen-age, drug addicted couple, Karlie and Peter of Cedar Rapids,Iowa, who love their six-month-old daughter, Luna Gale, but spend their days in a hazy stupor, neglecting the baby.
When the child is taken away from them, brought to the Emergency Room, placed into protective services, then given to Karlie’s mother, Cindy, in the interim, Karlie and Peter realize they’re going to become locked in a tough custody battle with Cindy, who’s a religious fanatic. She wants to adopt baby Luna, but Karlie is vehemently opposed.
Director Rebecca Bradshaw helms Stoneham Theatre’s superb cast,who paint a disturbingly realistic portrait of a societal ill we’d prefer to sweep under the carpet.
Multi-award-winning Lynn native Paula Plum portrays Caroline, the couple’s harried, overworked, longtime social services case worker, who must determine whether Karlie and Peter are capable of recovery, cleaning up their act, and getting Luna Gale back.
Maria DeCotis vividly portrays Karlie, while Luke Murthaas Peter is more lowkey- and more strung out, most of the time. Boston headliner Stacy Fischer portrays Cindy; Bob Mussett a soothing mediator in his role as Cindy’s husband-Karlie’s stepfather, Pastor Jay; and Jacob Athyal is effective as administrator-boss Cliff. Ally Dawson rounds out the cast, portraying Cliff and Caroline’s successful case, Lourdes, on whom they lavish praise and hope for her future.
Kristin Loeffler’s clinical-looking set doubles as a hospital waiting area and grim, social worker’s office. A background panel turns into Cindy’s kitchen.
David Reiffel’s sound effects and Wen-Ling Liao’s lighting heighten the play’s dramatic impact.
As with real-life situations, Karlie and Peter’s case isn’t cut-and-dried. There’s much to be considered, especially after Caroline meets with Cindy, and realizes she isn’t the ideal solution for baby Luna, either. What situation is best for the child?
Social workers are supposed to keep their personal lives and feelings out of their cases; but Caroline becomes increasingly drawn into Karlie’s plight, which parallels something in her own past. Caroline’s job is also threatened by her boss, Cliff, who emphatically accuses her of extreme burnout. Luckily, Caroline holds a few trump cards, thwarting Cliff.
There are surprises, but no revelation here in “Luna Gale”. However, Gilman successfully highlights a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t incident, increasing our awareness about what politicians, lawmakers and society in general should work harder on, together, to protect our innocents.
BOX INFO:Two-act, two-hour drama by Rebecca Gilman, appearing at Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main St., Stoneham, through Nov. 8:Wednesday, Sunday, 2 p.m.; Thursday, 7:30 p.m.; Friday, Saturday, 8 p.m. Tickets, $45-$50; seniors, $40-$45; students, $20. Call 781-279-2200 or visit www.stonehamtheatre.org
Hailed as the “what’s next in American theater,” Spiegel’s play, which she wrote in her senior year at Yale University, is a potential harbinger of plays involving raw, teen-age angst that’s touching, but not revelatory. Years ago, young women who got “in trouble” desperately resorted to even more dangerous ways to abort, oftentimes resulting in their deaths.
Times were different then. Families and clergymen were intolerant of out-of-wedlock pregnancies. In “Dry Land,” (well directed by Steven Bogart) the plot revolves around popular Florida high school swim team member, Amy, (Stephanie Recio), and new student-swim team member, Ester, (Eva Hughes), who’s trying to fit in with Amy and the “in” crowd.
The two teens linger in set designer Courtney Nelson’s spotless, antiseptic-looking, high school locker room, as Amy commands a reluctant Ester to punch her in the stomach, over and over again, harder and harder. Amy refuses to seek help from adults, and wants to get rid of her problem on her own. Portraying Amy, a compelling Recio withstands hard blows to her abdomen, enough to make theatergoers seated on three sides of the Plaza Theatre cringe with each punch.
Bound by their secret, the girls share other facts about themselves. Calling herself a slut, Amy boasts about her sexual exploits, how she hated being a cheerleader, and switched to swimming.But Amy isn’t all she professes. Not really.
Ester’s secrets are more pragmatic, less sensational, yet painful. She’s level-headed, sincere, focused on being a strong competitor, hoping to garner a bid from colleges and a scholarship. Knowing that Ester admires her popularity, Amy enlists Ester’s help, but taunts her, especially in an emotionally revealing scene. Amy adds she wouldn’t trust her shallow best friend, Reba, (Alex Lonati), with helping her. Perhaps she doesn’t want Reba to know, or she thinks Reba would tell others.
Both Recio and Hughes deliver taut performances, keeping theatergoers’ attention riveted throughout. Portraying college student Victor, Kadahj Bennett is funny, yet touching in an awkward, shy scene with Hughes.
Paul Trainor’s role as the janitor is a prolonged cameo, until he’s needed later, after the girls’ shockingly graphic scene. Members of the ensemble swim team are also under-used, making a brief, collective appearance near the end of the play.
For us critics who have been inundated with new plays about teen-age troubles, “Dry Land” has its moments, but needs some tweaks. No doubt, it would shine as a high school/college production, prompting serious, needed discussion about this perennial problem.
The Boston premiere of 22-year-old playwright Ruby Rae Spiegel’s one-act 105-minute play, “Dry Land,” appearing with Company One through Oct. 30, at Boston Center for the Arts Plaza Theatre, 539 Tremont St., South End, Boston. Check for related activities. Showtimes: Wednesdays, Thursdays, at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays, at 8 p.m.; Saturdays,8 p.m., Sundays, 2 p.m. Tickets, $25-$38;students, $15. Call 617-933-8600, visit bostontheatrescene.com, the BU Theater Box Office, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston, or BCA, 527 Tremont St.