Jessica Litwak on ‘Luna Gale’ and changing the world through theater

BY CLARK MILLER –

If Jessica Litwak had a home, it would be Petaluma.

The globetrotting playwright, director, actor and teacher spends so much time away that she doesn’t yet feel entitled to say she lives here. But she does, having moved from New York City seven months ago.

Litwak is currently directing “Luna Gale,” by Rebecca Gilman, at Cinnabar Theater in Petaluma. The drama, which premiered in 2014, opens Oct. 11 for a three-week run.

The play plunges us into the troubled world of social services. For Caroline, a veteran social worker played by Liz Jahren, the case against Peter and Karlie (Zane Walters and Miranda Jane Williams), two teenage drug addicts accused of baby neglect, seems straightforward. But when she hands the baby over to Karlie’s mother (Gina Alvarado), surprises are in store for the characters — and for the audience. The other actors in the play are Kellie Donnelly, and Petaluma’s John Browning and James Pelican.

Litwak has not seen previous productions of “Luna Gale,” nor has she directed other plays by Gilman.

JESSICA LITWAK“I like working fresh on material,” she said. “I’m treating the play as an ensemble piece. Upon reading the play I was attracted to the subject but wanted to bring compassion and depth to all the characters. There are no bad guys in this play. I hope the audience will feel both compassion and susceptibility.”

Susceptibility? This word offers a clue to Litwak’s core convictions about theater. For forty years she has honed the power of live theater to not only entertain but awaken social consciousness in the audience. Whether writing a play about the Israel-Palestine conflict, acting the role of Emma Goldman (the pioneer anarchist and feminist) in a trilogy of plays Litwak wrote, or directing a play like “Luna Gale,” she always seeks to arouse the audience.

“Luna Gale” is, she admits, a serious play dealing with painful problems that often seem beyond resolution.

“But I find that if you can engage the audience, they don’t get down,” she said. “As a director, I want them to feel they have agency.”

Litwak and her cast are primarily focused on the relationships in the play.

“I asked the actors to do deep research on all kinds of addiction,” she said. Each actor has also done lots of character research, so that as a group they can create a reality that resonates as real.”

(Click here to read the full story in the Petaluma Argus-Courier)

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