‘Beast on the Moon’ review

Theatre, Drama
3 out of 5 stars
Beast on the Moon, Finborough Theatre
© Scott Rylander Zarima McDermott, George Jovanovic

Time Out says

3 out of 5 stars

Flawed but moving drama about the aftermath of the Armenian genocide

A 15-year-old girl comes to America to live with her new husband, who she’s never met. First she cries with gratitude (he’s saved her from the orphanage). And then with total despair. Richard Kalinoski's 1995 play ‘Beast on the Moon’ is anything but a romantic fairytale: it follows two Armenian refugees in ‘20s Milwaukee as they try, under almost unbearable pressure, to build a home.

It quickly becomes apparent that young photographer Aram (George Jovanovic) isn't really after love. He wants his new wife Seta (Zarima McDermott) to have babies as quickly as possible, to start replacing the family he lost in the Armenian genocide. But, as Kalinoski’s play clumsily outlines, she's traumatised too. She hides under the table when he tries to take her to bed. And clings to the ragdoll she's brought with her, a last remnant of her past. McDermott is appealingly sparky and changeable as Seta, a teenager who shifts from desperate eagerness to please to showers of tears. Aram's personality stays more opaque: he hectors his wife over her barrenness, and poses her for endless photos, like she's just another doll.

Director Jelena Budimir's production realistically captures the claustrophobia of their apartment, with the smell of real stew and hefty wodges of cake floating through the Finborough's small space. Behind them, a grainy backdrop of monochrome mountains (by set designer Sarah Jane Booth) calls back to the Armenia they've left behind. This is a kitchen where massive themes play out: how people deal with losing their family and culture, the struggle to find love in an arranged marriage, and the restrictive gender roles of ’20s life. But Kalinoski's text doesn't always handle them with subtlety: there's a mixture of bald symbolism (at one point, Seta crucifies her own doll) and mawkish sentimentality (the arrival of a plucky young orphan saves them both). This couple's true feelings are often opaque, and the gaps in their story are filled in by a sort of kindly omniscient narrator figure (played by Hayward B Morse), whose avuncular perspective lends quaintness, but not depth.

‘Beast on the Moon’ sets itself a tough task. It's trying to find a language to talk about acres of pain. But that's near impossible in a drama that centres on a couple who can barely communicate what they've experienced, either to themselves or each other.

By: Alice Saville

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