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A Haunting Look Into Child Protective Services: ‘Luna Gale’ At The KDT

Casey James Dunn |
December 7, 2014 | 2:41 p.m. PST

Staff Writer

Reyna de Courcy and Mary Beth Fisher in "Luna Gale." (Craig Schwartz/Center Theatre Group)
Reyna de Courcy and Mary Beth Fisher in "Luna Gale." (Craig Schwartz/Center Theatre Group)
The world of Child Protective Services is not an elegant one and “Luna Gale,” now playing at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, thrives in its gritty world. Directed by Robert Falls, the play provides for a provocative and emotional rollercoaster throughout its full two hours.

The Kirk Douglas Theatre has a reputation for consistently putting on intense and revolutionary shows that push the boundaries of the theatrical arts and “Luna Gale” is no exception. Possessing some of the best acting in town, direction that is meticulously detailed, and a set design (Tood Rosenthal) that is, for lack of a better word, badass, "Luna Gale" exceeds expectations.

Written by Rebecca Gilman, “Luna Gale” delivers hit after hit of excitement and torment. The story centers on Caroline (Mary Beth Fisher), an employee for the Child Protective Services who helps decide whether children are placed within foster care, or given back to their families. The play begins when an infant named Luna Gale is brought to the emergency ward with a threatening illness. Her parents, Karlie (Reyna de Courcy) and Peter (Colin Sphar), suffer from an addiction to meth that they must learn to control if they want to retain custody of their child. When Karlie’s mother gets involved in the fight for custody (wanting the child herself) a thrilling drama ensues concerning cruel family secrets and the dark recesses of the human psyche.

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Mary Beth Fisher gives a phenomenal performance as the quick witted and deeply tormented Caroline. Constantly providing a great mix of humor and honesty that keeps the heavy subject matter from overwhelming the production, while still fully immersing the audience in her struggles. Fisher does a terrific job of playing a character that is not entirely morally agreeable, blurring the line between what is acceptable for someone of her position to do and what is not. Accompanying her on stage is a fantastic ensemble performance in which every character adds different perspectives to the overarching conflict. In a show with no true villain, it is electrifying to see the emotional depths brooding within each character. 

Colin Sphar (Peter) gives a uniquely enjoyable performance, seeming at first like any other stereotypical teenager who is not ready for the responsibility of adulthood. But Colin immediately rises above those assumptions and reveals the layered craft in which his character has been constructed. A caring boyfriend, loving father, and recovering meth addict, Peter, like so many people, struggles to find stable ground. Colin performs this role with skill, expressing so much with so little. It does not take outlandish movements or large fluctuations in his voice to express character objectives. Instead itnis the small looks and the minute actions he takes. This compliment really spans to the whole cast and production overall. There is a clear attention to detail that gives the show a refined feel.

This specificity carries into the directing of the show which is spot on. Robert Falls gives justice to all of the great aspects at his disposal – the actors, set, script – and raises them to the highest level. The play moves like a dream, never dragging or stalling in action. "Luna Gale" truly is a show that you will not want to end, but do not worry, the end is done with class and entirely earns its climactic finality. Robert does a terrific job of making the world feel real, every setting is impeccably designed and the actors feel completely comfortable within the scenes. 

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Caroline’s office is covered in stacks of folders and papers, a complete mess. But this chaos adds to a very important aspect of the plays message, revealing just how little support there is for Child Protective Services’ employees and how overwhelming the career can be. Another great touch in Caroline’s office is a self-motivation poster hanging center stage that says “perseverance.” This poster connects perfectly to Caroline who is obsessed with her job and gives everything she has to help children. While uplifting, the poster is also very disturbing as the play progresses and Caroline’s perseverance begins to really show the inner turmoil that is gnashing and tearing within her.

The set of a show is often something that an audience notices but does not pay much attention to. That is not the case with “Luna Gale.” The set is unbelievable in its construction and use throughout the show. It is a show within the show. Designed by Todd Rosenthal, the set is built on a wheel that spins during scene changes to reveal the next scene. The set is broken into three main layouts with one facing the audience at a time. Often switching between Caroline’s office, Karlie’s mother, Cindy’s (Jordan Baker) kitchen, and an emergency room. These three main locations are also traded out for Karlie and Peter’s living room and a coffee shop throughout the production. Unbelievably difficult to properly describe, it is a magic show to watch as these sets come out so consistently and so beautifully.

A thrilling, heart wrenching analysis of the modern Child Protective Services, “Luna Gale” keeps the audience on edge long past curtain. A great show is measured by the discussion that it provokes after its completion, and “Luna Gale” gives more than enough to talk about. The cruelty and beauty of humans, the insanity that exists within everyone, and the complexity of faith are all driving factors in this play. The show never lets up from the important messages within the script, but still manages to provide plenty of moments of intelligent humor and honest passion. “Luna Gale” succeeds on all accounts and is a must see for anyone. Two hours of great theatre that will linger for so much longer.

"Luna Gale" is playing through December 21 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre (9820 W Washington Blvd, Culver City). Tickets $25-$55. For more information visit CenterTheatreGroup.org

Contact Staff Writer Casey James Dunn here.

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