Richard Kalinoski's Beast on the Moon plays concertos on our heartstrings, but there's no danger of psychological glycemic overload. A smart, provocative, surprisingly funny look at one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century, Beast on the Moonis vibrant and haunting, perfectly realized by director Diane Benedict's production.
The event at the play's core is one of the nastiest—and most overlooked—stains on man's inhumanity to man: the attempt by ruling Turks in the early 20th century to exterminate their Christian Armenian neighbors. The forces at work were as stupidly ugly as in any genocidal act: religious and cultural differences and envy. What makes this atrocity truly unique, at least in the world of this play, is the strange legend of a lunar eclipse superstitiously interpreted as a "beast eating the moon" and linked to Armenian infidels.
The play follows Aram, a young Armenian who escapes his family's execution as a child. Remarkably, he touches down in Wisconsin, where he dutifully tries to carry on the craft of his photographer father. Aram imports Seta, a lovely and lively teenage "picture bride" who was also orphaned by her family's extermination.
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Aram and Seta's trials and tribulations unfold via delicately performed remembrances. He yearns for a sense of order and desperately wants a family to replace the one he lost. She pushes for warmth and communication. They're joined by yet another orphan, Vincent, who is neither Armenian nor immigrant but who still carries the scars of a survivor who needs healing and understanding.
That sense of shared community among the ruins of personal devastation lifts this play—and it's a timely warning about the retribalization of former colonies throughout the world and of racism right here. But it couldn't be done without fully realized performances. Bart Myer's Aram finely captures his character's dual nature of insensitive badger and hurt, needy idealist. Lily Jha's Seta is hypnotic, a mosaic of captivating facial and body expressions that show us her transformation from frightened girl child to motivated woman. Didier Moh's street urchin Vincent is also believable, as is Arthur Kraft's older Vincent, who tells the story through a series of flashbacks.
A play that works this well is a rare beast, indeed. This one winds up teaching, illuminating, cleansing and urging us to open our hearts.
Beast on the Moon at the Long Beach Playhouse Studio Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, (562) 494-1014. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun. and Sept. 30, 2 p.m. Through Oct. 6. $15; students, $7.50 (Fri.-Sat. only).