Luna Gale at the Adobe Rose Theatre
LUNA GALE AT THE ADOBE ROSE The Adobe Rose Theatre is interested in socially relevant theater that grabs an audience with immediacy.
Luna Gale, a play by Rebecca Gilman about the fostercare system in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, is the first production at Santa Fe’s newest performance venue and company, the Adobe Rose Theatre. Founded by Maureen McKenna on Parkway Drive off Rufina Street, the Adobe Rose is a professional black-box space with movable seating that easily transforms from proscenium stage to thrust stage to theater-in-the-round, based on the needs of a show. Luna Gale, directed by Wendy Chapin, is staged in a triangle to symbolize the psychological mapping of destructive interaction between people in conflict, known as the Karpman drama triangle. This arrangement also makes the play’s numerous quick scene changes more fluid, explained designer Geoff Webb, technical director of the Adobe Rose. Settings are established via video projections that give the audience several different angles on a given location — the emergency room at a hospital, a grubby apartment, a caseworker’s office, a kitchen — and, by extension, greater insight into each character.
In Luna Gale, Sabina Dunn plays Caroline, a fostercare caseworker with 25 years on the job and a new, much younger supervisor, Cliff (Peter Chapman), whom she doesn’t trust. The story begins in the ER, when Caroline spots two meth heads in their late teens — Karlie (Mairi Chanel) and Peter (Dylan Marshall) — who are waiting for their infant daughter to be treated for fever, diarrhea, and dehydration. Caroline says they can’t have their baby back, so to avoid Luna being placed in a foster home, Karlie calls her mother, Cindy (Lynn Goodwin), to take temporary guardianship. Luna Gale includes themes of religious fanaticism, sexual abuse, truth, and hypocrisy, and touches on the deeply frustrating layers of bureaucracy and the potential for traumatic burnout that is intrinsic to the life of a caseworker. A subplot about a girl named Lourdes (Jocelyn Montoya), who ages out of the system, adds yet another level of complexity.
On paper, Luna Gale bears some resemblance to a police procedural or movie of the week, heavy on hot-button social issues and light on insight, but the play resists these traps through careful character development. The characters are revealed to be more than what they seem and, unlike on most television shows, they are allowed to change and grow in unexpected ways. Gilman was inspired to write the play after seeing a PBS Frontline documentary, Failure to Protect, about caseworkers in Maine. All of Gilman’s references to policy, as well as the unsatisfying rehab options for Karlie and Peter, are specifically accurate to Cedar Rapids. In order to get her daughter back, Karlie tries to stay clean by doing craft projects in a support group with other young meth-addicted mothers because no beds are available in an actual detox facility. It is clear Caroline has faced this challenge more times than she can count. These impossible hurdles lead Caroline to make an ethically questionable decision that propels the second half of the play.
“I’ve been speaking to social workers, and one of them said they can usually only do something after a tragedy takes place, so to be proactive is really stepping across the line,” Dunn said. She also watched the Frontline documentary. “You really didn’t like the social workers in it. They came in and took these kids away, but they turned out to be right about what was happening in the family, because of their experience. People are going to be split about what Caroline does, or they may understand it while at the same time not approving of it.”
“This is the brilliance of Gilman’s writing. She does deep research. She’s connected to all the characters — you never feel her give short shrift,” Chapin said, who has a master’s degree in art therapy from Southwestern College and has worked with incest survivors. She equates these children with those
who grow up in foster care: Both lack a stable understanding of love and support, and often repeat patterns of abuse in their other relationships.
Chapin, who began her career at the Lincoln Center Theater and who has directed several Santa Fe productions, is the Adobe Rose’s artistic director. She worked with McKenna to select the inaugural season. Upcoming productions, with dates still to be determined, are Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker; Lobby Hero by Kenneth Lonergan; and Rapture, Blister, Burn by Gina Gionfriddo. The space will be available for rental to the community for about half the weeks of the year. The theater seats 120 to 140 people, depending on how it is arranged. Adobe Rose productions will feature local talent on stage and behind the scenes; McKenna and Chapin are also bringing in touring shows from around the country. The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey, written and performed by James Lecesne, premiered at Dixon Place in New York City in winter 2015; it opens March 3 at the Adobe Rose Theatre. The critically revered one-man show tells a surprisingly uplifting story about a fourteen-year-old boy who goes missing in New Jersey. McKenna and Chapin are interested in socially relevant theater that grabs an audience with immediacy. Though this will often mean new work, there is nothing in the theater’s mission that rules out older plays. “Something could be four hundred years old and socially relevant,” McKenna said.
McKenna, who has appeared on stages in New York, London, and Los Angeles, decided to open a theater a year ago, as she was figuring out what she wants to do after her youngest son graduates from high school in 2016. Her husband, screenwriter Bruce McKenna, vetoed a move to England and suggested opening an equity theater. “I’m an equity actor, and there isn’t an equity theater in this town,” she said. “I found my way to Wendy’s acting class and thought she would be the right person to help me on the artistic side, and I started looking for a space.”
The McKennas put up the capital for the initial launch, but ticket sales and fundraising will ultimately support the theater. McKenna is in the process of gaining membership for the Adobe Rose in the Actors Equity Association by working closely with officials on such matters as union rules around casting requirements and financial transparency. “The path to membership for small theaters is somewhere between two and five years, so it’s going to take time,” she explained. “As we put up shows and see the budgetary requirements, I’ll have a better idea of what the houses are like and what kind of support we get from the community. Right now, it’s a big adventure.”
Sabina Dunn, Adam Harvey, and Lynn Goodwin