Caroline isn’t a religious woman, but a key decision she makes in Luna Gale recalls a line from John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt. “When you take a step to address wrongdoing,” says Sister Aloysius in that play, “you are taking a step away from God, but in his service.”
Rebecca Gilman’s 2014 drama has a very different premise than Shanley’s 2004 classic, but it draws its considerable energy from a similar tension. Luna Gale, like Doubt, centers on a woman who’s experienced in navigating the treacherous shores of a patriarchal bureaucracy. In both cases, the character has always worked within that bureaucracy, until she finally reaches a breaking point and decides to go rogue.
Run, don’t walk, to the Southern to catch Underdog Theatre’s Luna Gale before it closes this weekend. Director H. Adam Harris snaps this show taut from its opening scene and holds that tension straight through to the end. You may be amazed to check your watch and see that over two hours have gone by since you first met a young couple struggling to keep their child.
Karlie (Briana Patnode) and Peter (Kory LaQuess Pullam) have been smoking meth, neglecting their infant daughter Luna until she needs to be hospitalized for dehydration. Karlie’s mother, Cindy (Megan Kelly Hubbell), a medical professional, is ready to step in and take custody of Luna.
Facilitating that adoption seems like a no-brainer to Cliff (James Rodríguez), who oversees the local social work office. Luna’s caseworker Caroline (Jodi Kellogg), though, isn’t so sure. She sees promise in the damaged but loving young couple, and becomes skeptical of Cindy’s evangelical intentions. Can Caroline convince her boss to give Luna’s parents another chance?
Gilman neither demonizes Cindy and Cliff nor excuses the faults of Karlie, Peter, and Caroline. These are all well-meaning but imperfect people working within a cripplingly under-resourced system.
The script demands strongly defined but nuanced performances, and Harris has a superb ensemble cast with combustible chemistry. Patnode and Pullam are at once obnoxious and endearing, and the production’s even tone doesn’t blink when Hubbell declares her sincere faith. The show earns real—and intentionally uncomfortable—laughs when Cindy’s pastor (Dario Tangelson) enters the picture, and Imani Vaughn-Jones has a poignant supporting role as one of Caroline’s previous clients.
This Luna Gale, though, belongs to the extraordinary Kellogg in one of the most touching performances recently seen on any local stage. Leazah Behrens’ set is full of compelling touches, but the key detail might be a HILLARY campaign sticker behind Caroline’s desk. Like Clinton, Caroline is a woman who’s struggled with a broken system, only to see her failures amplified and her successes ignored. Luna Gale will leave you saying, “I’m with her.”
1420 S. Washington Ave., Minneapolis
612-326-1811; through April 1