The tale told in Richard Kalinoski’s 1995 play, Beast on the Moon, is set against the background of the Armenian Genocide perpetrated by the Ottoman Empire, primarily in 1915, and with lesser atrocities and massacres that extended back into the 19th Century. Armenians, a Christian people, were at the mercy of the Muslim Empire, and there was precious little of that. It is reported that up to a million and a half men, women and children were slaughtered, starved, tortured, raped, or marched to death in deserts. The genocide is the hulking monster that lurks behind the love story of two orphaned refugees, whose families were obliterated.
The setting is an apartment in Milwaukee between 1921 and 1933. The playwright uses the time-honored theatrical device of an omniscient narrator, The Gentleman (Tony Abatemarco), who begins the show and returns occasionally to bridge time gaps and to comment on the action. Later it becomes clear that he has a vested interest in the story.
After seeing a photograph, Aram Tomasian (Travis Leleand) bought and had shipped to America an Armenian bride, Seta (Rachel Weck), a flighty fifteen-year-old, clutching a hand-made, stuffed doll. She is bubbly, wide-eyed and innocent. He is a handsome, twenty-something professional photographer striving for success in America. Aram tries to tame Seta’s effusive giddiness by reading passages from the Bible that assert a husband’s dominance over a wife. As time passes, Seta endures the treatment. She becomes a good wife, but when she repeatedly fails to conceive a child, Aram’s dream of a family to replace the one he lost in the holocaust is shattered. The couple goes through all the ups and downs of hope, despair, and recriminations. They settle into routine, some days good, some bad. Eventually, Aram’s dominating demeanor spurs rebellion in Seta.
In the second act, a number of years have passed by and the couple has settled into a routine, which is upset when Seta brings home a dirty, eleven-year-old street urchin, Vincent (the remarkable Nico Ridino). He is a smart little guy who always has plenty to say. For a number of very good theatrical reasons, Aram becomes unhinged when he finds Vincent in the apartment. And the show rockets to an emotional climax and an exquisite dénouement.
Beast on the Moon is a powerhouse of passion delivered by superb performers under the sensitive direction of ICT Artistic Director caryn desai. The interplay between Travis Leleand and Rachel Weck crackles with tension, affection, and conflict. Nico Ridino’s spunky self-confidence calls to mind the young Mickey Rooney as Puck in Max Reinhardt’s 1935 production of A Midsummer Nights Dream. And Mr. Abatemarco is the consummate pro.
The creative team for Beast on the Moon includes set designer JR Norman Luker, lighting designer Donna Ruzika, costume designer Kim DeShazo, sound designerDave Mickey, prop designers Patty and Gordon Briles, and hair and wigs designer Anthony Gagliardi. Casting is by Michael Donovan, and the production stage manager is Victoria A. Gathe.
So what does Beast on the Moon refer to? Glad you asked. According to Turkish mythology, there was a dragon named Yelbegen…that “sometimes chewed the stars in his mouth and broke them into pieces and then spit them out…according to Altai people, [an] eclipse of the Moon used to take place because of this ogre. For this reason, when there is [lunar] eclipse they say: ‘Again Yelbegen ate the Moon’ ’’(wikipedia).
Beast on the Moon runs through September 8 at International City Theatre, Long Beach Performing Arts Center, 330 East Seaside Way in Long Beach.