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Last Saturday, my husband I went to Seattle to see the latest of Seattle Repertory Theater productions. SRT has been offering us in the Pacific Northwest thought-provoking plays that are filled with relevant social issues, such as Disgraced. The latest of its offerings is the acclaimed playwright Rebecca Gilman’s Luna Gale, which asks us to explore the morally and emotionally complex issues associated with the most innocent and vulnerable segment of our society, children – in this case, children born to mothers who are economically and emotionally challenged, and their caretakers, the social workers. The pacing of the play was brisk, the sliding stage-set changes were unobtrusive and efficient, and the acting was excellent, sustaining our engagement effectively throughout the play. We also very much enjoyed an after-performance discussion session with the playwright.

Luna Gale is the name of the baby whose crystal meth-addicted teenage mother Karlie and the unemployed father Peter have apparently failed to take good care of their new born baby. So the core of this play is, as the title indicates, about the helpless baby Luna Gale. However, since our society is organized in such a way that all children born to the society are, ultimately speaking, legally under the guardianship of the government, the play revolves around a social worker Caroline, who embodies the government authority. Since Caroline represents the authority, capable of making critical decisions regarding the at-risk baby’s care, people under investigation, such as Karlie and her mother Cindy who wants to take care of Luna Gale, tend to cower in her presence.

Caroline, like most social workers, is concerned and thoughtful person whose ultimate objective is to give the best possible living environment to the baby who is utterly helpless without a good-intentioned selfless advocate. Caroline knows this, so she works tirelessly to produce a best possible solution into the current messy familial situation: Karlie’s mother Cindy is high-strung and religion-addled; she functions as a temporary caretaker for Luna Gale presumably until Karlie and Peter become responsible parents. Caroline intuitively detects that both teenagers are capable of becoming more responsible parents. However, the messy situation becomes messier when Cindy begins to pursue the sole guardianship of the baby taking away the parental rights from Karlie.

In the course of a little over 2 hours many personal and familial dysfunctions of the main characters, such as sexual abuse by a step-father and a father, alcoholism, parental negligence, addiction to drugs and religion (according to Karl Marx, religion is the opium for the masses), are revealed, underscoring the difficulties they have to overcome to transcend their current problems. The play does not offer a clear resolution to the issues explored at the end, but certainly invites the theater-goers to think about the real problems facing many young people and children today. The social workers may be very well-intentioned and passionate about their work, but they can only do so much. What is needed seems a more radical remedy through education, and economic and social support.

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