The term “MacGuffin” was popularized by film director Alfred Hitchcock to describe objects or events that took place in his films that were necessary to begin the plot and motivate the characters but were essentially irrelevant. It may be harsh to refer to a baby as a MacGuffin, but the title character in Luna Gale, running through October 27 at Petaluma’s Cinnabar Theater, is just that.
She’s the newborn of meth-addicted parents Karlie (Miranda Jane Williams) and Peter (Zane Walters). After bringing their baby into an emergency room, they’re met by Caroline (Liz Jahren), a social worker who informs them the baby will be taken out of their custody while they receive treatment for their addiction. Faced with the choice of placing the infant in foster care or with Karlie’s mother Cindy (Gina Alvarado), Caroline recommends placement with the child’s grandmother. It’s a decision she soon regrets.
Cindy, an evangelical Christian, seeks to gain full custody of the child with the support of her influential pastor (James Pelican). Caroline thinks the mother’s move will be devastating to her daughter’s recovery, but Cindy thinks Karlie’s a lost cause. She wants to save the child (in more ways than one.)
Overworked and out of time as her tight-laced boss (John Browning) supports Cindy’s request, Caroline devises a plan to stall the custody hearing. Will this agnostic sell her soul to save three others?
Playwright Rebecca Gilman has written a devastating look at the underfunded and frequently unavailable social services world. Our nation talks a good game when it comes to the treatment of damaged individuals but often fails to deliver.
Director Jessica Litwak brings a stylish directorial approach to the material that, while visually interesting, detracts from the text. The show opens and closes with movement pieces and when cast members are not in a scene, they’re dressed in lab coats and act as shelves, flag poles, etc. Rather than absorb what’s being said, one ponders why there’s an arm sticking out of the refrigerator holding a banana.
When they’re not scenery, the cast is acting the hell out of the script. Liz Jahren gives a towering performance as the social worker exhaustively swimming against the tide of an entrenched bureaucracy. Williams and Walters are quite effective as the troubled parents. Pelican gives an interestingly restrained performance as the church leader.
There’s light at the end of the tunnel in Luna Gale. It’s the light of all those who keep fighting the good fight – professionally and personally. There’s still hope.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
‘Luna Gale’ runs through October 27 at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. Fri–Sat, 7:30pm; Sun, 2pm. $20–$32. 707.763.8920. cinnabartheater.com
Photos by Eric Chazankin
This review originally appeared in an edited version in the North Bay Bohemian.