Luna Gale opens with several brisk scenes featuring a social worker, a grandmother, and a couple of parents whose youth and inexperience is signaled by the fact that they’ve named their wee one Luna Gale. “Weird name. Is she a vampire baby?” someone asks.
Imagine a couple of addicts sent over from the reality show Intervention–her, surly and sharp-witted; him, sweet with a worrisome dreaminess–locked in a room with Nurse Ratched and the Church Lady. These folks will be spending the next few hours settling Luna Gale’s fate. That’s a setup that’s likely to sustain your attention as is, though as it turns out these characters and several more have a long road to travel and will end up miles from where they started.
This new play by Rebecca Gilman, who did the stage adaptation of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, isn’t yet well known. I won’t give away the rest of the plot, except to say that for a character-driven ensemble drama, there’s a lot of it.
Redbud Productions is a company run as much for the actors as for the audience. Tim and Loretta Grimes met at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York and established Redbud seventeen years ago to teach the Meisner method. One of the many offshoots of Stanislavski’s method acting, which teaches actors to work from the inside, Meisner is so intense that it sounds like psychotherapy. Tim Grimes says, quoting Meisner, that acting is “not putting on a mask, but taking off a mask, and underneath the character is you.” One good reason to go to a Redbud production is to imagine yourself up on that stage, because it is entirely a possibility, and not just as a spear carrier working your way up to First Messenger. In its acting classes, the theater company does scene work from complex interpersonal dramas, which twice a year coalesce into a full-scale production at the Kerrytown Concert House.
I saw Luna Gale in the Redbud basement rehearsal space several weeks before the opening. The actors were all startlingly good, already “off book,” and playing out an engrossing drama as if they were reliving real events. In the small space, I could see actor Deb Wood (playing Cindy, the religious grandmother) crying real tears, a testament to the cathartic Meisner method. Every character in this rich drama gets a revelation except the slick Pastor Jay, who in compensation gets the best line, roundly noting that Cindy “doesn’t engage in situational thinking.” The “situation” he’s referring to is the human lifespan on the planet Earth.
From Redbud’s last production, Assisted Living, I know that one paradox of Redbud productions is that for all the emphasis on internal character work, their finished shows rely to a surprising degree on realistic props and stage furniture–an office is not only furnished with a Mr. Coffee, for instance, but the carafe filled with dark liquid that stagehands pour into coffee cups before the scene begins. This is probably for the benefit of the cast, not the audience–the length of the scene changes made me a little twitchy. Use the time to imagine yourself up there on the other side of the footlights. The show runs June 2-4 (see Events).