There are no clear heroes or villains in Rebecca Gilman’s “Luna Gale” at Aurora Theatre Company, and sorting out nuances of the dilemma — who should parent infant Luna Gale? — is what makes the drama compelling.
It can be an especially challenging journey for those who arrive with preconceptions about parenthood (who deserves it, who doesn’t?), the foster care system or evangelical Christianity.
We first see meth-addicted teenage parents Karlie (Alix Cuadra) and Peter (Devin S. O’Brien) in a hospital emergency waiting room, where their neglected baby’s been taken.
Peter’s nodding out, Karlie’s jumping out of her skin and gobbling Skittles. They expect to get their baby back from foster care once they’ve gone through rehab. But whether they are promising candidates in that regard is uncertain.
Karlie’s mother, Cindy (Laura Jane Bailey), has been given temporary “kinship” responsibility, but she’s convinced her daughter is a hopeless case and wants to adopt the baby.
However, Cindy’s a devout born-again Christian whom Karlie hates, presumably for that reason but, as it turns out, for other reasons as well.
Cindy’s blissed-out pastor (Kevin Kemp), who’s known Karlie all her life, agrees that she’s hopeless. Cindy and the pastor put their faith in God, not in people.
What about the central character, Caroline (Jamie Jones), a longtime foster care social worker who’s caring but burnt out and has emotional problems of her own that seem to affect her decision-making. Is she a reliable witness?
There’s lots going on in this complex story, in which all the characters are deeply flawed, including Caroline’s uptight supervisor (Joshua Marx) and a seemingly promising young girl, Lourdes (Jennifer Vega), who’s just aged out of the foster-care system and whom Caroline cares about deeply.
There’s only one character who appears to come out of the whole mess quasi-triumphantly — but at the expense of an overly sentimental, feel-good ending in which the playwright’s hand is too evident.
Director Tom Ross’ cast was a bit uneven on opening night, but that’s partly because some of the characters are thinly drawn yet required to go through emotional changes that are so abrupt as to be stagey and unconvincing.
That, plus too many set changes, has a distancing effect on a play that should be consistently believable.
But with some good performances (Jones, Bailey and Kemp in particular), and an intriguing storyline, “Luna Gale” is for the most part both troubling (in a good way) and thought-provoking.
Presented by Aurora Theatre Company
Where: 2081 Addison St., Berkeley
When: 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Wednesdays; 8 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays; 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; closes Oct. 1
Tickets: $33 to $65
Contact: (510) 843-4822, auroratheatre.org