Richard Kalinoski’s Beast on the Moon is a play of finely tuned austerity. Which is as it should be, since it is about monumental things. Its simple story takes place before a backdrop of 20th-century horror, and it hews close to the simple idea that history—no matter how momentous—is best captured through human intimacies.
Director Mary MacDonald Kerr’s fine production for In Tandem Theatre is filled with such intimate details. The setting (by Rick Rasmussen) is spare—appropriate for the 1920s Milwaukee home of a new immigrant. But it also brings the iconography of the story into sharp relief: a camera, a Bible, an overcoat, a photograph, a doll.
All these objects have an important place in the story of Aram and Seta, the couple at the center of Kalinoski’s play. They are young, and we meet them shortly after they have met each other, refugees fleeing the aftermath of the Armenian genocide. We watch them grow—individually and as a couple—over the course of a dozen years. But their wounds are deep, and the healing is quiet and slow.
Their journey is beautifully captured in the performances of Grace DeWoolf and Michael Cotey. DeWoolf’s Seta is only 14 when we first meet her, and she is wide-eyed with terror and fascination. The rigid cool of her husband, captured by Cotey in the clipped indifference of his voice, challenges her to open up to this new world. And the pair take tentative steps that lead to the play’s final poignant moments.
Bobby Spenser, who narrates the story and also plays the young boy who befriends the couple, is the warm heart at the center of the story. MacDonald Kerr, who played Seta in the play’s Milwaukee premiere, knows well that the play’s story isn’t an easy one, but she lets its powerful moments speak clearly and forcefully. In them, we see the toll of suffering and evil, but also the healing power of heart.