"Luna Gale" is an appropriate and provocative choice by 5th Wall as the first production in this year’s Acts of Faith Festival. The drama ruminates on motherhood, fatherhood and judgment.
The play, by Rebecca Gilman, examines not only divine judgment but also professional judgment calls. It explores the small but incredibly significant, daily ways we judge ourselves and others and how slippery these judgments can be.
“Luna Gale” invites audiences to judge characters at every turn, and to note how quickly our opinions shift and sway over the course of the drama.
The play opens with a strung-out young couple waiting in an emergency room, hoping for news about their infant daughter, Luna Gale, who’s been sick for days.
Karlie (Rachel Hindman) twitches and scowls, yelling at the unyielding door behind which her child lies. The man, Peter (Will Hart), sits in a slump, eyes sunken, clearly crashing. When the door finally opens and a woman emerges, it isn’t a nurse. It’s veteran social worker Caroline Cox (Gina McKenzie), who takes one look at this couple in their altered states and makes a swift judgment that she’ll soon regret.
For a play with such serious subject matter, funny moments cut the tension. But they’re double-edged, as in one scene in which Caroline’s boss, smarmy but goodhearted Cliff (Chandler Hubbard), asks Pastor Jay (Bosin Christopher) to join him in praying for a visibly shocked and offended Caroline in her office.
The actor’s facial expressions make this scene at once funny and uncomfortable, striking a satisfying balance that seems to be director Daniel Moore’s vision. He capitalizes on each instance of dark humor in the script and achieves dramatic realism in the serious moments.
The acting satisfies, although dialogue on opening night occasionally is clunky, with some actors stumbling over lines more than once. But there also are moments of theatrical magic, and actors who have me holding my breath.
In particular, Hindman and Hart are genuine and endearing in their portrayal of the young couple fighting addiction to regain custody of the daughter. The relationship feels real and warm and sweet, and the actors handle moments of heightened drama with delicacy and nuance that’s missing from other emotionally charged scenes.
The musical choices bookending scenes aren’t always smooth, drawing attention to themselves, and the large, open performance space sometimes swallows sounds and dialogue.
But Jeff Clevenger’s set design is perfect, contributing to the realism of this production. The use of three connected yet distinct spaces with furniture indicating home, office and waiting room combined with Erin Barclay’s lighting design — with spotlights to direct the audience’s attention — are smart and effective ways to use the space, although it occasionally invites blocking that obscures actors’ faces.
Fifth Wall’s “Luna Gale” is a story of family and faith, of judgment and redemption, and it raises inevitable questions, important ones, about society and beliefs and how we should and shouldn’t judge one another. S
Fifth Wall’s “Luna Gale” runs until Feb. 4 at the RVA Event Space. Tickets cost $28. 5thwalltheatre.org.