BEAST ON THE MOON
THEATER REVIEW BY ARAM KOUYOUMDJIAN
Staging the ubiquitous Richard Kalinoski play “Beast on the Moon” is an inherently risky proposition. The script – about two Armenians orphaned during the Genocide who try to build a new life together in America – may be poignant, but it frequently overdoses on sentiment. Directors and actors must actually resist its saccharine tendencies in order to deliver a successful production, as a beautifully restrained and moving Off-Broadway rendition proved a few years ago. However, a current revival by Malabar Hill Films (at the Marilyn Monroe Theatre through October 17) not only exposes the flaws in Kalinoski’s writing, it exacerbates them with problematic performances and grievous directorial missteps.
Kalinoski’s play opens in 1921 with Aram Tomasian, a young Genocide survivor who has made his way to Milwaukee, greeting Seta, his newly-arrived picture bride. Aram is obsessed with the idea of forming a new family to replace the one he has lost, but Seta – starved during her formative years – proves unable to conceive a child. The play traces the solitary couple’s struggle to move beyond the tragic past – a struggle in which a neighborhood boy named Vincent plays an unexpected part.
Given that “Beast” is constructed as a memory play, an older version of Vincent – well advanced in years – serves as its narrator.
As directed by Paul Lampert, the play’s latest incarnation features an austere aesthetic devoid of warmth. Props are spare, and the act of eating is mimed – an odd stylistic choice that fails to recognize the nurturing function that food serves in Armenian households.
Zadran Wali and Olga Konstantulakis have a pleasing stage presence, but their interactions as Aram and Seta lack depth of feeling, and chemistry practically eludes them. Lampert stages a brief moment of intimacy between the two so hastily and clumsily that it dispenses with sensuality altogether (and turns unintentionally funny when the viewer realizes that the pretty music accompanying it is a slow instrumental take on an Armenian patriotic song).
Lampert’s single worst decision, however, rests with having the same actor portray Vincent both as an adolescent and an old man. John Cirigliano makes a game effort, but watching the gray-haired actor run around like a 12-year-old reduces the second act into a drama exercise gone awry, from which the production never recovers.
It is interesting to note that Cirigliano and Konstantulakis have studied acting with Larry Moss, the director of the fine Off-Broadway production of “Beast” that I mentioned earlier. I will always remember that haunting production (and the heartbreaking performances of Omar Metwally and Lena Georgas) fondly – now more than ever.
Aram Kouyoumdjian is the winner of Elly Awards for both playwriting (“The Farewells”) and directing (“Three Hotels”). His latest work is “Velvet Revolution.”