Theatre review: Beast on the Moon at International City Theatre

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Photo by Tracey Roman
Rachel Weck demonstrates her innocence by barricading herself under the dining room table in a childlike game.

Tucked away in a corner of the Long Beach Convention Center’s vast amount of surface area, International City Theatre boasts a gorgeous stage and an unrivaled selection of content. Beast on the Moon is no different as all the little details of the work ultimately build upon each other until they amplify and ensnare the audience.

Beast on the Moon is set entirely in the Milwaukee dining room of Armenian immigrant photographer, Aram Tomasian (Travis Leland). When Aram’s mail-order bride (Rachel Weck) is delivered from Turkey, the two strangers begin a journey of discovering the other’s identity and worth as well as their own. With the horrors of the Armenian genocide in common, these opposites strive to learn to understand one another and carve out a future for themselves in 1920s America.

At the helm of this crisp, polished production is director and producer caryn desai [sic], whose cultural awareness and emotional intelligence decisively provides depth to the proceedings while remaining true to playwright Richard Kalinoski’s script.

With a small cast of four, the chemistry between leads Leland and Weck is of the utmost importance, and the two shine marvelously together. Leland’s control ensures the many moments of frustration Aram experiences are expressed passionately, but are reined in well enough to keep his character from appearing too domineering over his meek and mild wife. The balance is well-maintained. Weck, meanwhile, plays the innocent, yet playful ingénue effortlessly.
To add refreshing moments of reprieve to the longer scenes between Leland and Weck is the play’s narrator, dubbed The Gentleman (Tony Abatemarco).

The exposition provided between scenes or time hops by Abatemarco is helpful and poised, though his character’s reasons for being noticeably interested in the plight of the Tomasians is intriguingly mysterious. And the scene-stealing Nico Ridino is a very welcome revelation of Italian-American spunk as Vincent, an orphan who serves as the catalyst for the Tomasians’ growth.

The many ever-shifting dynamics of the narrative are what keeps this one-setting play from becoming too tedious. The Tomasians spend the duration of the work exploring who they ought to be as the only survivors of their respective families in a place that has not always been home.

What does it mean to be an adult? What does it mean to be a child? What is it like to be American, to be Armenian, to be Christian, to be an orphan, to love someone, to be loved—with so many plates of identity spinning, it is hard to reach absolution for the Tomasians, but this production handles such fragility brilliantly.

Beast on the Moon runs until Sept. 8 at International City Theatre, 330 East Seaside Way in Long Beach, 90802. Tickets are on sale starting at $47. Online ticketing is available at internationalcitytheatre.org. The theater’s box office can be reached at (562) 436-4610.