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Play ‘Luna Gale’ shows complex system that involves, drugs, love, family, religion and government intervention

From left, Sabina Dunn, Adam Harvey and Lynn Goodwin are shown in a scene disputing who should have custody of a baby in “Luna Gale,” the opening play for the new Adobe Rose Theatre. (Courtesy of Donal McKenna)

From left, Sabina Dunn, Adam Harvey and Lynn Goodwin are shown in a scene disputing who should have custody of a baby in “Luna Gale,” the opening play for the new Adobe Rose Theatre. (Courtesy of Donal McKenna)

SANTA FE, N.M. — A baby’s future teeters at the intersection of meth-addicted but loving parents and a rigidly evangelistic grandmother with a bureaucratic state system where social workers juggle an overload of vulnerable children and troubled families.

Everyone wants to do what’s best for baby Luna Gale – but they clash on the proper prescription for protecting and nurturing her shaky future.

Rebecca Gilman’s powerful play, which premiered two years ago at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, marks the opening of Santa Fe’s newest theater, the Adobe Rose, a flexible black-box space situated just off Rufina Street and down the street from Duel Brewery in a blossoming arts district.

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Opening Thursday and running through Feb. 6, the run will give audience members a chance to scope out the space, the performers and the small cafe that will offer drinks, snacks and pastries both before and after the show.

And the play itself, which depicts all sides in a system mired in dysfunction, sometimes as much as the families it aims to serve, likely offers a good sampling of what you can expect to see behind Adobe Rose walls in the future: intimate theater with casts of 10 or fewer people in productions that take on issues that speak to today’s world.

“I like socially relevant theater,” said Maureen Joyce McKenna, Adobe Rose founder and executive director. “I don’t think it matters how old the play is, if it’s relevant to what’s happening in the present.”

And “Luna Gale” fits the bill.

Wendy Chapin, director of the production and artistic director for the theater, said she isn’t aware of any other contemporary play that looks into a human services department and its handling of foster kids.

Playwright Gilman was inspired, Chapin said, by an episode of Frontline that told of a social worker who, facing a lack of options, took a foster child into her own home but was unable to handle the child’s behavioral issues, ending up taping his/her mouth and confining the child to the basement.

Gilman’s resulting play, set in Iowa when growing meth addiction was producing babies that were overwhelming the child protective services system, is “a multi-faceted portrait of what’s going wrong in the whole system,” Chapin said.

And this crisis is taking place within a setting where everyone is doing their level best to do the right thing, they said.

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“There are no good guys, no bad guys or evil-doers,” added Geoff Webb, Adobe Rose board member and technical adviser who designed the theater layout.

The result is a multi-layered, complex portrayal in which, McKenna said, audience members’ sympathies might shift among the characters as layers are peeled and secrets revealed. “They all struggle with ‘Do the ends justify the means?'” she said of the characters.

“It’s a brilliant play,” said Chapin, who said her direction aims for a quick-driving sense of ongoing crisis. “I know the pace is crucial for it to work and have impact.”

And Webb has set up a stage and viewer configuration that is basically a theater in a triangle (as opposed to in the round). “The positioning is skewed because the play is skewed a little bit, too,” he said. “The idea is that nothing fits.”

Characters in “Luna Gale” played by Adam Harvey, center, and Peter Chapman, right, pressure Sabina Dunn into a prayer. (Courtesy of Donal McKenna)

Characters in “Luna Gale” played by Adam Harvey, center, and Peter Chapman, right, pressure Sabina Dunn into a prayer. (Courtesy of Donal McKenna)

On stage this season

The idea for the theater itself, though, is that it can be transformed to fit almost anything – or at least anything with a reasonably small cast. Webb showed a series of designs for various stage configurations – in the round, with the audience set on either side of a runway-like stage, and more. Panels in the room’s walls can be rearranged to allow for actors to enter and exit at different points.

And, to create sets and scenes with little physical crowding or waste, screens will be positioned at various spots where images will be projected to create the sense of place. For “Luna Gale,” for example, file cabinets and a clock that actually changes time will be shown for scenes in the social worker’s office, McKenna said. “Sustainability is a big part of our mission,” she said. “A theater can create tons of waste.”

“Every item, every scene has to be absolutely necessary to tell the story,” Webb added. “It’s how to construct a scene with the least amount of stuff in the most powerful way – doing more with less.”

Sabina Dunn (veteran social worker Caroline) and Peter Chapman (her boss) clash over what is best for baby Luna Gale in the Adobe Rose Theatre's premiere production, Luna Gale. (Courtesy of Donal McKenna)

Sabina Dunn (veteran social worker Caroline) and Peter Chapman (her boss) clash over what is best for baby Luna Gale in the Adobe Rose Theatre’s premiere production, Luna Gale. (Courtesy of Donal McKenna)

The Adobe Rose has announced plays it expects to include in its season, as well as visiting productions that will be housed in the space:

  • “Dames of Thrones: Women in Shakespeare’s Histories,” Feb. 17, presented by the Ducdame Ensemble from New York. This performance is in conjunction with the First Folio of Shakespeare’s plays that will be on display at the New Mexico Museum of Art. The ensemble also will return with a two-show run in August.
  • “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey,” March 3-6, a one-man show written and performed by James Lecesne about the disappearance of a 14-year-old boy and its effects on his small New Jersey town. McKenna said the production started in New York, then went to Los Angeles, from which it will come to Santa Fe. “That sounds like a good pattern to me,” she quipped.
  • “Circle, Mirror, Transformation,” dates to be announced, that finds heartbreak and hilarity among “a motley quintet” in a community center drama class.
  • “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” dates to be announced, a comedy of feminist politics that examines a careerist and a homebody who end up wanting each others’ lives.
  • “Lobby Hero,” dates to be announced, where a young security guard is drawn into a murder investigation in which both brothers and police partners are set at odds with each other.

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