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Beast on the Moon

Richard Kalinoski's uneven play deals with the aftermath of the Armenian genocide. logo
Lena Georgas and Omar Metwally
in Beast on the Moon.
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
"Our life should be recorded," says a character in Richard Kalinoski's Beast on the Moon. That statement sums up the playwright's intent, as well. This uneven work deals with the aftermath of the Armenian genocide, an atrocity that has been suppressed and even denied by the Turkish government, as it was the Turks who systematically exterminated over a million Armenians during World War I. I'm unaware of any other plays that address the subject, and it's obvious that one of Kalinoski's primary motivations for writing Beast is to make sure that this historical event is not forgotten.

Unfortunately, the script is more interesting as an academic exercise than as a compelling piece of drama. It's fairly predictable, and the characters are not as well developed as they should be. Beast begins in 1921 as Aram (Omar Metwally) welcomes his new picture bride, Seta (Lena Georgas), to his home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Both are survivors of the Armenian genocide, although Aram has been living in America longer, making his living as a portrait photographer. The action of Beast spans a dozen years; we watch as Aram and Seta attempt to have a child and move on with their lives.

The play is narrated by a Gentleman (played by Louis Zorich) speaking from the present day; the character's identity becomes clear in the second act. "I am their witness," he says early on in the play, calling to mind recent psychoanalytic writings on trauma and the need for survivors to testify to their experiences in the presence of a witness who will listen and validate their trauma. This device is also used when Aram finally tells Seta how his family died at the hands of the Turks, how he alone survived and made his way to America.

It's obvious early on that Beast is leading to such a climactic revelation. Metwally performs it well, and the horrific tale is extremely moving; yet it feels a bit manipulative on the part of the playwright in that he has purposefully withheld detailed background information on Aram for most of the play. Receiving all of this information at once is almost too much for the audience, and it forces a resolution that seems simplistic.

Another problem is the episodic structure of the play, which often makes huge leaps in time. Individual scenes show moments of conflict between the characters but we don't always get to see how they are worked out. Based on the occurrences in subsequent scenes, it's obvious that some measure of resolution is achieved, but we don't know how.

Metwally has a strong stage presence but relies too heavily on outward mannerisms to convey his character's feelings. While portions of his performance are emotionally grounded, at other times it seems that the actor is only playing the surface intentions of the role. Georgas is more consistent and has several fine moments within the production; however, she is not quite believable in the first scene, when Seta is supposed to be a 15-year-old.

Zorich doesn't get to do much in Beast on the Moon; his talent seems almost wasted here. Matthew Borish plays Vincent, a young orphan befriended by the Armenian couple, and his performance lacks depth. Granted, the boy is only 13, but Borish gets stuck in a repetitive vocal pattern that quickly becomes annoying. Also, Vincent's confession to Seta about his sexual harassment by a priest reads as false and fails to gain sympathy for the character.

Anita Yavich's costumes suggest the period without actually mimicking 1920s and '30s fashions. David Lander's lighting is often quite lovely, especially when light streams through the window of Neil Patel's simple, effective set. Director Larry Moss paces the action too slowly, particularly in the first act. But he is able to bring out the humor in the play, which never becomes maudlin despite its heavy themes.

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