BEAST On The Moon is a moving play about coming to terms with shocking family loss. It jars and on occasion is hard to watch, but ultimately good courses through its veins and hope prevails. Beauty – as well as beast.
Written by Richard Kalinoski and based on the experiences of his former wife’s grandparents, it follows the story of two survivors of the massacre (Genocide) of Armenians by the Turks in the wake of the First World War.
Aram (George Jovanovic) is a 19 year old Armenian photographer who miraculously survived the slaughter by hiding under a pile of clothes and then dressing up as a girl. By selling all bar one of his father’s precious stamp collection, he manages to fund his way west to the United States and a new life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He keeps a family picture to remind him of those he lost in the Genocide – but with their faces eerily removed.
Seta (Zarima McDermott) is four years Aram’s junior and also Armenian. She has been ‘selected’ by him (on the basis of a photograph, a wrong one at that) to be his wife and pitches up at his home after travelling – again west and across oceans – from the orphanage she has been staying in. Like Aram, her family has been ravaged by atrocities committed against her mother and older sister. Too gruesome to contemplate, impossible to deal with as a family survivor.
Seta, magnificently portrayed by McDermott, is a mere child and it is all rather harrowing to observe as Aram makes clear his intentions – to start a family as soon as possible to atone for the loss of the one he came from. Seta, intelligent and quizzical, cowers under a table in trepidation, a doll her only comfort. Shocking to observe.
All a little creepy and repulsive but Aram is not a bad man. He is driven by his religion, often resorting to quoting from the bible to make a point. He is also a victim of his past, a past bottled up inside him like a ticking bomb.
Over the next twelve years we see the relationship between Aram and Seta develop. It has more ups and downs than a ride on Blackpool’s Big Dipper. Aram finds business success and recognition – crucial to his whole being. Seta, barren, finds work in a local grocer’s.
Into their life steps Vincent (Hayward B Morse), an orphan with troubles of his own whom Seta take a shine to. It is his presence in the matrimonial home, initially baulked at by Aram, that finally forces Aram to confront his past and leave it behind, in so doing providing the cement that will bring happiness to the family home. Closure? No. But much healing of deep rooted scars.
The cast is quite brilliant with McDermott’s transformation from cowering child to a self-confident young woman extraordinary. From a vulnerable chrysalis to beautiful butterfly over the course of two hours.
Jovanovic portrays Aram with a perfect mix of zeal, machismo, chauvinism and kindness. A difficult role, but one that he masters.
Hayward B Morse is accomplished as the story’s occasional narrator (Vincent in later life) while somehow managing to convince the audience that he is the young squawky teenage orphan whom Seta takes under her wing.
Beast On The Moon, directed by Jelena Budimir, has a bit of everything for everyone. All human traits – good and bad – are on display. Thought-provoking, disturbing, shocking and rewarding.
Title photo by Scott Rylander