The last time I saw Richard Kalinoski’s Beast on the Moon was at the Asolo Theater, back in the late 1990s. It’s about time for a revival for this serious play, as evidenced by the current production at Venice Theatre’s Stage II.
While its background is a very disturbing subject—the Armenian genocide of 1915 committed by the Turks and so often forgotten by history—Kalinoski’s play does not scream out its horrors. On the contrary, it’s a small, quiet play that reduces the annihilation of thousands of people to its most intimate size and scope: the impact those murders had on one Armenian-American couple.
That couple includes Aram Tomasian (Nidal Zarour), a young photographer who’s made it safely to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by the early 1920s and has just acquired a “picture bride”—that is, from a set of pictures taken at an orphanage abroad he has found himself a new Armenian-born wife, Seta (Ally Tufenkjian). Their first meeting is not smooth; she’s actually not the girl he thought she was, and she’s also very young (15) and childlike. All the more difficult, then, for her to understand his purpose, which is to immediately and continuously try to re-create the family he lost in the genocide. A portrait of that family, with the faces cut away, dominates the scene of the Tomasian home, providing a constant reminder of the past.
Ally Tufenkjian and Nidal Zarour in Beast on the Moon.
The portrait is first introduced to us by A Gentleman (Jim Lovett), who from the vantage point of the year 1992 looks back on those early days for the couple struggling to be a family. As the play goes on, it’s not hard to figure out who that gentleman is. But most of the action/dialogue takes place between Aram and Seta, as their quest to have children becomes a huge barrier between them; and Zarour and Tufenkjian are frequently moving in their battle.
They are joined in Act II by a young boy, Vincent (Steven Junker), a fellow orphan whom Seta longs to take care of. You can see the path the characters’ lives will follow from here, but Kalinoski makes it involving on a personal basis.
While the subject of the play is dark (albeit leavened by occasional flashes of humor), it often feels too portentous in this production. Director Murray Chase has chosen to stage the piece with long, meaningful pauses (undoubtedly to accentuate the heavy weight past traumas play), which ultimately slows things down too much. On the other hand, Junker’s delivery is often too fast; as his words about his own survived horrors spill out, the audience may not be able to clearly distinguish them.
Still, Beast on the Moon carries some power, and kudos to Venice Theatre for presenting it. The play continues through May 2; for tickets call 488-1115 or go to venicestage.com.