Beast on the Moon review at Finborough Theatre, London – ‘humane and melancholy’
Telling the story of two survivors of the Armenian genocide forging new lives in America, Richard Kalinoski’s 1992 play Beast on the Moon is an introspective, impressionistic character study.
Charting the strained relationship between hard working, bible-bashing Aram, and Seta, the child bride he retrieves from an orphanage, the play poses troubling questions from the outset, but never quite articulates them dramatically. Instead, a sequence of quietly intense scenes explore issues of identity, survivors’ guilt, and compassion in the face of inhumanity.
George Jovanovic makes a convincingly conflicted Aram, stifling a boyish gentleness beneath a veneer of patriarchal masculinity inherited from his murdered father. Opposite him, Zarima McDermott’s Seta struggles to reconcile her gratitude at being saved from starvation with the suffocating confines of her marriage. Meanwhile, Hayward B Morse serves as an occasional narrator, but particularly throws himself into his squirmingly physical portrayal of homeless orphan Vincent, taken in by the childless couple.
Director Jelena Budimir fills the production with stretching silences, managing to evoke some moving moments of exquisite fragility or unexpected tenderness as the characters negotiate the psychological and spiritual burdens they carry. However, with the dialogue already prone to solemn portentousness, the slow pace often leaves the production feeling unwieldy and unfocused.
Sarah Jane Booth’s set is simple and atmospheric, a backdrop of scratched and stained screens hanging like photographs developing in a darkroom. A portrait of Aram’s family hangs centrally, the faces scratched out, reminding him of everything he’s lost and everything he’s desperate to recreate.
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