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Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Remembrance, Spirit and Faith

In Tandem’s ‘Beast on the Moon’

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“There was—and there was not,” intones the elderly man in Armenian at the start and end of Beast on the Moon, Richard Kalinoski’s deeply affecting play about two survivors of the Armenian Genocide, which opened last weekend at In Tandem Theatre in a superb, heart-wrenching production.

The Armenian Genocide was carefully plotted and carried out by the Ottoman government, resulting in the massacre of 1.5 million Armenian men, women and children between 1915 and 1917. The first holocaust of the 20th century became an all-too-effective prototype for the Third Reich’s “Final Solution,” with Hitler himself extolling its “success.” 

It is through the desperately searching voices of 19-year-old Aram and his 15-year-old “mail order bride” Seta that the underlying psychological horrors of witnessing such unspeakable atrocities come full circle. Aram has a family portrait prominently displayed with all the heads missing; Seta clings desperately to a rag doll made by her massacred mother. Together, they try to forge a life in 1920s Milwaukee. But the past is there always, haunting, lingering, looking for and demanding a place and time to be heard. 

“I am a dead person living too,” Seta cries out to Aram during the stunning climax to this story of survival, hope and, ultimately, spiritual redemption. 

Beast
had its Milwaukee premiere in 1995 and director Mary MacDonald Kerr (who played Seta in that Milwaukee Chamber Theatre production) has created a harrowing, deftly balanced production with three cast members, all of whom excel, separately and together. Robert Spencer plays a dual role of the elder man, Vincent, and his younger juvenile self, the street orphan. It’s a tricky business moving back and forth in time and character but veteran actor Spencer pulls it off beautifully. As the stiff, inflexible Aram, Michael Cotey brings a three-dimensional richness to this boy/man who grows up all too fast, talking tough while the pain burns deeply. And Grace DeWolff’s Seta is a tour de force performance. She completely transforms before our eyes as the naïve teenage waif who helps the other characters come to terms with, not just physical survival, but transcendence of pain and suffering.

Beast on the Moon
is a poignant, personal testament to those Armenians who survived, as well as an important, timeless voice for all those who perished, but still live on in remembrance, spirit and faith.

The production runs through March 24 at the Tenth Street Theatre, 628 N. 10th St. Student, senior, military and group discounts are available. For more information, call 414-271-1371 or visit intandemtheatre.org.