Entries in Michael Cotey (1)

Sunday
Mar032013

 In Tandem’s Tender Beast on the Moon Honors Human Tragedies

There was and there was not. These words open In Tandem Theatre’s elegant production at Tenth Street Theatre, Beast on the Moon, an award winning play written by Wisconsin playwright Richard Kalinoski. In his historical based story, there was one Armenian family that lived in an Ottoman Empire's city, and one in the Ottoman Empire's country. There was a holy war waged by Turkey against the Armenians. There was grief, heartbreak, shame and then determination to live and love in after one of the world's lesser known genocides, which began in 1915. 

These qualities give Beast on the Moon even more emotional resonance to the story of the two Armenian holocaust survivors. A young man, Aram Tomasian, sells his valuable stamp collection given to him by his father and then finds his way to Milwaukee in the 1920’s. He eventually sends for an Armenian picture bride named Seta. Seta is the other survivor, a war orphan who arrives in Milwaukee as a 15 year old girl clutching a tattered rag doll, full of gratitude to her new husband for bringing her here and being alive.

Aram and Seta live life unlike Aram had planned, because as Seta says, “most of life is unplanned.” She had never planned on coming to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, while Aram follows in the footsteps of his father, becoming a sucessful photographer. Seta learns to bake scrumptious cakes to sell because when no baby arrives, baking fills the void in her life. This unspoken tension, replacing the there was not any children to there will be a child, determines the couple’s future happiness, a story narrated by an older man named Vincent. As a young boy Vincent knew the couple when they were living in Milwaukee, a role adeptly played by the older, debuting Robert Spencer.

Michael Cotey and Grace DeWolff play the surviving couple with affection, sensitivity and tenderness while learning to face the reality that there will be no family to replace the ones that were so heinously destroyed in the holocaust for being "infidels." Directed by Milwaukee’s Mary MacDonald Kerr who plumbs memorable performances from each actor, Beast on the Moon transcends the 1920’s time frame on Rick Rasmussen’s bare structure of a set as if Aram and Seta were spirits still hovering in a Milwaukee bungalow. 

Each spirit tries to escape the tragedy of their past lives and a barren womb at a time when a woman’s worth often depended on her ability to bear children. Seta copes with her own disappointment, and her husband’s desperation, by exclaiming in frustration, “The person who is a wife is a person.”

Picture brides, lovely, young women, were persons. The Armenians who were ruthlessly destroyed were persons. Armenian and all immigrants to America were persons. Even Vincent, a young boy who lives at St. Bartholomew’s orphanage is a person deserving of respect. They were all human beings deserving to be heard and seen as living, breathing souls with names.

In Tandem’s intimate Beast on the Moon asks the audience to remember the Armenian holocaust with compelling honor, especially as the production builds toward the emotional release in the second act. However, Kalinoski’s play speaks to the facts that despite a person’s age, faith, gender or heritage, every one deserves to be treated as a valuable person to be treasured for their uniqueness. For who a person is instead of what they can do.

Aram, Seta and Victor discover this over the course of a decade living in Milwaukee where eventaully a wool coat that was once a saving grace again gives warmth to both the body and soul. In the poignant Beast on the Moon, all three survivors, like many in the audience, learn being gratefully alive with each other can transform a barren there was not into a wonderful there was.  

In Tandem Theatre presents Richard Kalinoski’s Beast on the Moon at the Tenth Street Theatre through March 24. For information, tickets and fundraisers planned for Armenian causes held during the specific performance dates, please call 414.271.1371 or click the In Tandem link to the left.