by Beverly Creasey
Only once in a blue moon will you see a new play like Richard Kalinoski's "Beast on The Moon". Kalinoski has written a work of such power and resonance, it will put you in mind of plays by Brian Friel or Tony Kushner. And only once in a blue moon can you see a production as lovely as the New Rep's transcendent presentation of "Beast".
Kalinoski weaves humor, history and symbolic imagery into his story of the survival in America of two children of the Armenian genocide of 1915. Over a million Armenians in Turkey were victims of ethnic cleansing. Hitler, in fact, referred to the little known Armenian genocide as evidence that the world would tolerate and eventually forget Germany's Final Solution.
"Beast on the Moon" like Styron's "Sophie's Choice" is a tale of the searing aftermath of tragedy. Some, Kalinoski says, escaped the Turks "by chance, or luck, or will." Although they survived, some cannot escape the grief. They are, as the young bride tells her husband, "living dead people." "Beast on the Moon" traces their harrowing journey from living dead to living alive.
What a glorious mix of symbols in "Beast": the young husband is a photographer of families and of cherished children --- living reminders of the family he lost. The wife collects orphaned children to replace her own family. Each cannot face his own reflection: in mirrors, in dead eyes, in the eyes of a stray boy. They cannot see what they are doing to each other, or to themselves. Kalinoski uses these reflections to paint a landscape around the simple story of a young couple in need of redemption. Love and redemption do come, beautifully, skilfully in Kalinoski's surprisingly fresh foray into familiar tragic territory.
Rick Lombnardo directs with a sure and loving touch. Each scene is a graceful portrait gorgeously lit by John Malinowski, exquisitely framed by Martin Haroutunian's mournful musical score --- performed on the traditional Armenian recorder called the dukduk.
The performances are extraordinary. Phillip Patrone is the old man who introduces us to the young couple, a sage narrator of sorts who observes their comings and goings. Patrone is so convincing that the people seated behind me argued about his age --- a fact revealed when he sheds his weary persona to become the orphan boy befriended by the desperately lonely wife.
Darla Max gives a haunting performance as the naive fifteen year old "picture bride" (ordered from an Armenian orphanage) who matures into a woman with an endless capacity for love. David Grillo will break your heart as the wounded husband who cannot open up to anyone until he faces his own beasts.
Richard Chambers' ramshackle set of a storeroom piled with chairs upon chairs the way the heart piles hurt upon hurt is the perfect metaphor for "Beast". Francis Nelson McSherry's costumes are soft and dark and warm the way Kalinoski has written the moving catharsis of "Beast". You will be moved. This is an important work in today's theater. Do not miss it.