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Michael Weller's intriguing anti-war play owes much to cinema, even as it retains a vibrant theatricality. logo
Logan Marshall-Green and Dan Butler in Beast
(© Joan Marcus)
If Michael Weller's Beast were a movie, it would be a horror flick, or maybe a buddy film, or possibly a political comedy. The intriguing play, now making its world premiere at New York Theatre Workshop, owes much to these cinematic genres even as it retains a vibrant theatricality. Directed by Jo Bonney and featuring a strong acting ensemble, it makes its anti-war stance abundantly clear while venturing into rather disturbing territory.

The play follows army buddies Jimmy Cato (Logan Marshall-Green) and Benjamin Voychevsky (Corey Stoll), who we first meet in a military hospital in Germany. Both carry physical and mental scars from their fighting in Iraq, and Voych -- as Cato calls him -- may, in fact, be dead. Looking more than a little like Frankenstein's monster -- courtesy of make-up and effects designer Nathan Johnson -- he possesses superhuman strength and doesn't seem to need to eat or sleep.

The duo's first act misadventures have a darkly comic tone, as they meet up with a U.S. captain secretly selling arms to Arabs (Dan Butler), a pair of blind prostitutes (Lisa Joyce and Eileen Rivera) and their pimp (Raul Aranas), and Voych's wife, Ann (also played by Joyce). The second act becomes more farcical, with a religiously zealous trucker (Jeremy Bobb) and a visit to the President's ranch in Crawford, Texas for an audience with GW (Butler) that has such a dark conclusion that you half expect the Secret Service to shut down the play.

Between scenes, composer/sound designer David Van Tieghem pumps a driving rock beat through the speakers, and video designer Tal Yarden flashes a montage of images -- inclusive of war footage, a road, and other visuals appropriate to what's going on in the production. Scenic designer Eugene Lee's oppressively black set opens up to allow additional set pieces -- many of which are painted with American flags -- to be wheeled in. There's also a brilliantly conceived moment with a replica of Mt. Rushmore, courtesy of puppet designer Bob Flanagan.

Marshall-Green adds to his growing number of nuanced stage portraits, capturing all the shades of passion, vulnerability, and humor that Weller has written for Cato. Stoll occasionally overdoes his growled vocal intonations, but still showcases the sad humanity and later manic zealousness buried within Voych's hulking shell. Butler is pitch-perfect as Captain Adler, who possesses a potent combination of charm and menace, and relies on a comic mimicry of George W. Bush that is often funny but could use a little more gravitas. The remaining actors all do well with their multiple parts, with the best work coming from Joyce as the blind prostitute Sherine.

The play will appeal mainly to audience members critical of President Bush's handling of the war in Iraq. However, Weller's characterization of Cato and Voych is layered and thought-provoking. They are men who served their country willingly and want that service to be recognized. Voych tells GW that he and mutilated soldiers like him are the President's legacy, and despite the fantastical circumstances that Weller has contrived, this core idea still has a powerful resonance.

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