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Luna Gale

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Luna Gale

Adobe Rose Theatre, Jan. 22

The Adobe Rose Theatre opened its doors to busi­ness last week­end with an ex­pertly ren­dered pro­duc­tion of Luna Gale, a stage work well worth see­ing. Lo­cal play­go­ers must have been in an op­ti­mistic frame of mind as they en­tered the com­pany’s digs, which were re­cently cre­ated out of what was for­merly an in­dus­trial space. One en­ters from the park­ing lot through an un­fussy lobby, which houses the ticket desk; and this leads to a cleanly de­signed, gen­er­ously pro­por­tioned gath­er­ing room large enough to ac­com­mo­date seven ta­bles and a re­fresh­ment counter staffed by pleas­ant peo­ple. The ex­pe­ri­ence of ar­riv­ing is, in a word, invit­ing.

The au­di­ence pro­ceeds into the per­form­ing space, which ac­com­mo­dates about 130 view­ers. The seat­ing set-up can be re­con­fig­ured as de­sired. For this open­ing pro­duc­tion, it was di­vided into three sec­tions, each with rows of com­fort­able chairs as­cend­ing from the f loor-as-stage on ris­ers steep enough to en­sure good sight­lines for all. This ef­fec­tively cre­ated if not a “the­ater in the round” then a “the­ater in a tri­an­gle.” The only neg­a­tive in the ar­range­ment is that, be­cause the seat bot­toms don’t fold up, peo­ple seated near the row-ends need to file out to make way for oc­cu­pants of the middle-ish seats — only a slight in­con­ve­nience, re­ally, since each row con­sists of only about 10 chairs. A grid over­head holds a light­ing ar­range­ment that ap­pears ba­sic but prob­a­bly suf­fi­cient for most needs. Ac­cess to the cen­tral per­form­ing space seemed man­age­able, al­though per­son­nel needed to squeeze a bit to move stage fur­ni­ture on and off.

Luna Gale is the work of Re­becca Gil­man, a play­wright whose pieces tend to touch on mat­ters of so­cial and political jus­tice. It was premiered in 2014 at Chicago’s Good­man Theatre and since then has been mounted at a hand­ful of venues from Los An­ge­les to Lon­don. On the face of it, the plot sounds not par­tic­u­larly ap­peal­ing: An in­fant (the oddly named Luna Gale) be­comes a shut­tle­cock in a bid for cus­tody that might be de­cided in fa­vor of her par­ents (who both strug­gle with meth ad­dic­tion) or her ma­ter­nal grand­mother — or, for that mat­ter, might lead to the foster- care sys­tem. None of the op­tions seems ideal, but sort­ing through them is all in a day’s work for so­cial worker Caro­line, an old hand at messy fa­mil­ial mat­ters, skilled at mak­ing bad sit­u­a­tions like this a lit­tle bet­ter while hew­ing to the de­mand­ing bu­reau­cracy of her govern­ment depart­ment.

Gil­man turns this into an of­ten grip­ping drama of 14 swiftly flow­ing scenes that keep Caro­line front and cen­ter. Sabina Dunn in­vests this prin­ci­pal part with a win­ning per­son­al­ity, equal parts so­cial- ser­vices pro­fes­sion­al­ism and hu­man em­pa­thy. We are on her side as she sorts through what can be done with Luna, and her dis­arm­ing per­for­mance, in­hab­ited by sin­cer­ity and even charm, con­vinces us that she is bound to solve ev­ery­thing in the best pos­si­ble way. We grow to ap­pre­ci­ate that the sit­u­a­tion is more than a manila file folder to her. Al­though her task cen­ters on the Luna prob­lem, she is also try­ing to un­twist the other per­son­al­i­ties in­volved: Luna’s ad­dict-mother (por­trayed bru­tally by Mairi Chanel), con­sumed with rage against the in­jus­tices of her own up­bring­ing; Luna’s meth-ad­dled father (Dy­lan Thomas Mar­shall), who projects a core of sweet­ness de­spite be­ing such a lost soul; and Luna’s grand­mother (Lynn Good­win), whose earnest gen­eros­ity grows more and more sus­pect. Good­win and Mar­shall en­joy rich writ­ing in their sup­port­ing parts, and both find op­por­tu­ni­ties to touch view­ers’ hearts with­out stum­bling into sim­ple car­i­ca­ture. Caro­line is, in a sense, sim­ply a func­tionary; but, as the grand­mother ob­serves at one point, she also bears awe­some power. Her eval­u­a­tions of the fam­ily dy­nam­ics and the re­ports she sub­mits to her agency will de­ter­mine how lives will be lived now and for years to come. Part of the im­pact of Dunn’s por­trayal re­sides in al­low­ing the au­di­ence to glimpse her own evolv­ing self-per­cep­tion, her re­al­iza­tion that she may not — per­haps can­not — al­ways play an im­par­tial role in plot­ting the course of so­cial jus­tice. Not least of the play’s lessons is that what we may dis­miss as a mere ap­pear­ance of con­flict or bias may, in fact, in­di­cate bias it­self.

Smaller parts are han­dled firmly by Adam Har­vey (as a smarmy min­is­ter), Peter Chapman (as Caro­line’s boss), and Jo­ce­lyn Mon­toya (as Lour­des, one of Caro­line’s for­mer cases, who is poised for a poster­child life of mount­ing suc­cess). The sub­plot in­volv­ing Lour­des seems un­der­de­vel­oped, and the play, which is per­haps two scenes too long, might be strength­ened by ex­cis­ing it; but that falls in Gil­man’s baili­wick, and the Adobe Rose pro­duc­tion makes of it what it can. Wendy Chapin’s di­rec­tion yields a re­al­is­tic pro­duc­tion in which all the char­ac­ters come across as cred­i­ble, and the sec­ondary parts are cal­i­brated to sup­port, rather than com­pete with, Dunn’s star­ring role. Sets and cos­tumes hew to the sim­ple and ev­ery­day, with the set­tings ex­panded through screens, onto which are pro­jected im­ages that would be the ev­ery­day dec­o­ra­tions of a so­cial ser­vices en­vi­ron­ment, such as file cab­i­nets, vend­ing ma­chines, and chil­dren’s draw­ings.

Any­body who starts up a the­ater com­pany in Santa Fe must do so with eyes wide open. It is no se­cret that the bones of de­ceased the­ater groups are buried all over town, and that the peren­nial in­abil­ity to sus­tain a pro­fes­sional troupe is the chief em­bar­rass­ment of a com­mu­nity that sup­ports the other per­form­ing arts with ex­tra­or­di­nary en­thu­si­asm. With an in­au­gu­ral play that forges bravely into tough ter­ri­tory, Adobe Rose gives cause for arts lovers to hope that things may work out bet­ter this time. — James M. Keller

“Luna Gale” runs through Feb. 6 at Adobe Rose Theatre, 1213-B Park­way Drive, 505-780-5865.

Left to right, Sabina Dunn, Adam Har­vey, and Peter Chapman

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