The haute solemnity inherent in the genocide-inspired drama can be preachy at best and trivializing at worst. Playwright Richard Kalinowski clearly recognizes this, and in Beast on the Moon, his chamber piece about two survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide, he overcompensates for the innate gloominess by opening with a deluge of giggles. Seta (Lena Georgas) is a 15-year-old picture bride who arrives in Milwaukee to take up residence with her new husband, Aram (Omar Metwally). Prone to laughter at inappropriate moments, the doll-clutching Seta is more than Aram bargained for when he requested “no grim-looking Armenian girls.” He soon makes her role abundantly clear: Showing her a portrait of his since annihilated family, the dour Aram orders her to fill in the carved-out faces with children of their own. Thus begins a sad and highly dysfunctional marriage. If Elie Wiesel told us to “never forget,” Beast on the Moon ponders what happens when never forgetting becomes a pathological obsession.
No doubt timed for the 90th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, Beast on the Moon remains strangely apolitical, focusing instead on the rather banal domestic tug-of-war between its protagonists. Seta learns that she’s barren, sending Aram into a paroxysm of religiosity. (A heated scripture quote-off is the play’s highlight.) Ultimately, Seta’s maturation from puerile woman to long-suffering saint provides a much needed, if clichéd, through-line for a play that lurches from one loud argument to another. And Georgas is so good in her later scenes you almost forget the absurd accent she’s forced to put on. Beast on the Moon can’t be accused of trivializing its subject, but its calculated modesty prevents the play from seeming anything more than inconsequential.