The dedicated staff employed by today's overwhelmed social welfare system, such as the department of human services, face what must seem like a daunting mission mending an unraveled segment of society.
Like the fields of teaching, nursing, and yes, journalism, it is a career discipline that is a vocation and "calling," not just a job.
This consideration is the building foundation for the world premiere perfect play about imperfection "Luna Gale," from Pulitzer Prize finalist Rebecca Gilman and directed by Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Robert Falls now at Goodman Theatre in Chicago until Feb. 23.
Appearing in her 16th Goodman production, Chicago stage favorite Mary Beth Fisher stars as the lead in what is a performance of a lifetime, playing a 25-year veteran social worker Caroline, who is charged with making tough decisions about the future of Luna Gale, a vulnerable infant of young parents with questionable capabilities for making decisions.
Fisher is torn by her duties to her profession and her own internal "gut-feeling" motivations as she must wrestle with right from wrong while following the rules of today's "by the book" formula treatment of the cases under her care. Fisher delivers an emotionally stirring performance that captivates. She is forced to endure the office politics and bureaucracy burdened by enduring a difficult ladder-climbing department supervisor played so believably by phenomenal young talent Erik Hellman it made my skin crawl.
The recreational "partying" teen parents of Luna, the infant exposed to harm, are Peter and Karlie, the fantastic sketchy, nervous performances by Colin Sphar and Reyna de Courcy. The situation is further complicated by Karlie's religious zealot mother, a nice turn by Jordan Baker, who is strongly influenced by her pastor playing with proper stiffness by Richard Thieriot. Melissa DuPrey plays another of Caroline's clients in a subplot about the young woman's journey post-client care.
Todd Rosenthal exceeds all expectations with his larger-than-life revolving and transforming set design, which duplicates every aspect of daily surroundings, from hospital waiting room, to courthouse break room to the homes and offices of the characters. The slow and mechanical movement of the set seems to symbolize the merry-go-round that is "the system," for how problems are addressed and procedures are performed to meet set requirements that are "part of the process."
There are 7 p.m. pre-show discussions on Jan. 31 and Feb. 7, 14 and 21, as well as post-show discussions on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Tickets to "Luna Gale" are $25 to $81 at GoodmanTheatre.org/Luna, at the box office at 170 North Dearborn or call (312) 443-3800.