“Beast on the Moon” a wise choice for In Tandem

The gripping drama about survivors of the Armenian genocide is perfectly suited for the intimate Tenth Street space, and its cast is just as well-matched.

By - Mar 4th, 2013 04:00 am

Michael Cotey and Grace DeWolff play Armenian genocide survivors Aram and Seta in “Beast on the Moon,” being staged at In Tandem’s Tenth Street Theatre. All photos by Mark Frohna Photography.

Intimate plays deserve intimate stagings, so In Tandem Theatre’s decision to present Wisconsin native Richard Kalinoski’s Beast on the Moon at the 99-seat Tenth Street Theatre is particularly appropriate. The venue greatly enhances an already-excellent drama, about the evolving relationship between an immigrant couple living in Milwaukee between 1921 and 1933.

Both adopted Milwaukeeans – Aram Tomasian (Michael Cotey) and his mail-order bride Seta (Grace DeWolff) – have survived the Armenian genocide perpetrated by the Turks in the years leading up to, during and following World War I.  (Although recognized as such by more than 20 countries, the Turkish government has refused to acknowledge that the systematic annihilation of nearly a million Armenians was genocide.) As Aram tries to recreate the family he has lost, the couple tries to adjust to life in America, as well as to each other.

But the marriage fails to produce children, and it isn’t until Seta takes a local orphan, Vincent (Robert Spencer, also playing his older self), under her wing, that Aram and Seta finally share their individual experiences of the Armenian holocaust with each other, and come to understand how their childhood histories have affected the adults they have become.

Vincent, played as both his child self and an older narrator by Robert Spencer, is taken under Seta’s wing, as a replacement for children she is unable to bear.

DeWolff and Cotey are so charming in the roles of Seta and Aram that you can’t help but care about them as they struggle to care about each other. Robert Spencer handles the dual role of Vincent well; he is responsible for playing both himself as an old man (think Greek chorus, or the Stage Manager in “Our Town”) reflecting on the events portrayed, and the young Vince taking part in them. In previous productions, though – including the 1995 Milwaukee Chamber Theatre production, where director Mary MacDonald Kerr played the role of Seta herself, and a 2005 off-Broadway run – the role is played by two actors, one older and one younger. The script sanctions both tactics for casting the role(s) of Vincent, but as talented as Spencer is, there’s a sense that casting the roles separately would have been more effective in In Tandem’s intimate space.

Beast on the Moon is a tale of how our pasts affect who we are, and it’s an affecting tale in itself.  In making reference to a series of historical events that history tends to forget, it’s an accounting that needs to be retold.  And as part of the 15th season of a theatrical company that is one of Milwaukee’s hidden jewels, it’s easily worth attending.

In Tandem’s Beast on the Moon runs through March 24 at the Tenth Street Theatre. Tickets are $22-$26 and can be purchased at (414) 271-1371 or the online box office.

0 thoughts on ““Beast on the Moon” a wise choice for In Tandem”

  1. Anonymous says:

    A terrific production of a very fine play. Horrific events are dealt with with integrity and insight. There’s more to say, of course, but in a couple of hours gets across more than you would think possible.

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