By Chuck Graham, TucsonStage.com
From left, Karlie (Amy Scully), Peter (Cole Potwardowski) and Caroline (India Osborne) see Luna Gale in different ways.
“There are no villains in 'Luna Gale',” says director Mark Klugheit in the program notes for this thought provoking production, now running weekends at St. Francis Theatre. There are no heroes, either, but there is an enormous amount of misfortune.
Which is the point of playwright Rebecca Gilman's revealing display of what goes on behind the scenes when idealistic child care regulations clash with the harsh realities of over-burdened and underpaid case workers.
At the heartbreaking center of every case is a child often as angry and confused as the very adults who are supposed to be in charge.
“Luna Gale” ups the poignancy by making Luna Gale an infant born to a pair of drug addicts barely old enough to be adults themselves.
The play is tense, harsh and perfectly timed for today's current attitudes when a hardened Congress led by Republicans shows little concern for properly funding the state agencies charged with caring for parent-less children.
We all know, on some level, those kids are out there, being warped by a system that has never been up to the task. If Charles Dickens was alive today, he'd know exactly where to look.
Gilman has put a human face on this impersonal situation and Klugheit keeps the features of that face crisply in focus.
Working on the barest of stages with only the most fundamental lighting, Klugheit brings the story to life by keeping his actors centered and digging into their roles to keep the audience engaged.
Their energy is not misplaced, for Gilman has balanced several social forces without judging anyone. Members of the audience can do that themselves. There is plenty of guilt to go around.
At the center of everything is India Osborne as the harried caseworker Caroline, doing her best to keep families together, not even judging the meth-addicted past of little Luna Gale's mother Karlie (Amy Scully). The baby's biological father Peter (Cole Potwardowski) does seem to have a spark of possibility, as he eventually gets an actual job and a better reason for living than just getting high.
Both Scully and Potwardowski find ways to make their characters sympathetic as the play goes on. We come to believe they do care, in their own individual ways, for this little bundle of life they have brought into the world together.
Pulling Caroline in the opposite direction are Caroline's by-the-book social worker boss Cliff (Steve McKee), Karlie's estranged mom Cindy (Joanne Mack Robertson) and the agenda-driven fundamentalist Christian, Pastor Jay (Jared Stokes).
Cindy is convinced Karlie will never be a good mom to Luna Gale. So convinced that Cindy assumes she will automatically be allowed to adopt the baby. But Caroline is equally devoted to believing every baby belongs with its proper mother, and Karlie deep inside wants to be a good mom.
The scale is tipped against her a little bit when Cindy and Pastor Jay gang up on Caroline with a request for prayer, but Gilman reminds us every child's life is part of a larger picture.
“Luna Gale” runs through Oct. 29, with performances at 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays, at St. Francis Theatre, St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church, 4625 E. River Road (at North Swan Road). Tickets are $20 general admission, $18 students, seniors and military. For details and reservations, ArtMeetsHeart.com, 520-505-1856