Luna Theater's Gregory Scott Campbell stands in front of the South Philly theater. Photo provided
Before Luna Theater signed the lease on their new home, a building owned by the Church of the Crucifixion in South Philly, they had a few awkward conversations with their potential landlords.
“I said to them, I think you should know that, well, um, last year we did a play where someone ate a dead baby onstage,” recalls artistic director Gregory Scott Campbell. But the Episcopal church had no interest in censorship, and soon a deal was brokered by Partners for Sacred Spaces, a non-profit that specializes in church/arts collaborations.
Luna hasn’t held back. Their first year in the space has included “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Pillowman” — a famously savage play Martin McDonagh — and, opening this weekend, “Brainpeople,” a piece the Washington Post described this way: “Urban bedlam. Multiple personalities. Tiger buffet. Dead parents. Bring the kids!”
“Brainpeople” is a complex mystical drama by Oscar-nominated writer Jose Rivera ("The Motorcycle Diaries"). Set in a dystopian Los Angles, the main character invites guests to her lavish estate for a meal celebrating her parent’s death.
In other words, it’s right in Luna’s wheelhouse. Over the last decade, the tiny company has carved out a niche audience by tapping into a specific sub-genre of contemporary plays: very dark, very funny, and often equally as violent.
Campbell puts it this way: “My mother said one time, ‘How come you don’t do comedies?’ And I was like, when you were at the show, were people laughing?’ And she said, ‘yeah?’ So our comedies are just funny in a different kind of way than people are used to. Let’s face it, we all like to laugh at each other’s pain. And we definitely bring the pain.”
So far Luna’s shoestring operation has thrived in their new neighborhood, a residential block just below the nightlife of South Street. And Campbell is hoping there are more than a few disaffected neighbors yearning for a darkly funny, truthful experience.
“Neighborhoods can be really cliquey in Philly,” says Campbell. “You know how it is — you have your bar, you have your coffee shop. We’re hoping to be the neighborhood theater for a lot of people.”