Raven Theatre’s “Beast on the Moon” Review – Observing Genocide and the Spirit of Survival

 

1st Generation Armenian-American and Co-founder of Raven Theatre, Michael Menendian, has earned many a Jeff Award and other acknowledgements of his ability to tell a story through the stage—acting, directing, design. 

 

 

Like most children, Menendian grew up with stories. 

 

 

Yet, like most children and grandchildren of genocide survivors, he also grew up with more silence than talk about the holocaust events that shaped his forebears’ life, and in turn his own. 

 

 

 

Perhaps that is one reason why a story he heard stands out in his memory.  His family legend—myth or fact—says that when the Turks imprisoned his grandfather in a cell on a prison’s second floor, a vision of being saved by angels allowed his grandfather to jump out the window, survive and flee.   

 

 

This may help explain why Menendian and his Raven colleagues, when considering how to honor the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, chose a story that first and foremost is about the spirit of survival, Richard Kalinoski’s “Beast on the Moon”.  

 

Yes, “Beast on the Moon” opens with graphic photos of crucifixions and more evidence of the Armenian Genocide than most contemporary Americans have ever seen.  Giving you a chill, we are also reminded of Hitler’s comment, to paraphrase, that nobody, after all, speaks of the Armenians. 

 

Wisely the script focuses not just on the genocide’s atrocities but on the days after when life goes on.   This choice to focus the story on survival, coupled with the high caliber acting and direction of this Raven production, can give us hope that “Beast on the Moon” will shed a much needed light on the story of the 20th Century’s first genocide. 

 

 

We meet Seta Tomasian (played by Sophia Menendian), a 15-year old orphan-survivor of the genocide and picture bride, as she arrives in the Milwaukee home of her new husband and fellow orphan-survivor, Aram Tomasian (played by Matt Browning).  A gentleman (Ron Quade) is there in the scene, observing and perhaps standing in for all of us, the collective observers.

 

 

Like anyone who has gone to hell and back, both husband and wife bring baggage.  Like any survivors, however, they do find a way to truly look within this baggage and then find a place to store it where it gets less in the way.   

 

 

How this unfolds is the tale that “Beast on the Moon” tells.  

 

 

It speaks to the larger story of the human spirit and rich Armenian culture that has enabled survivors of the genocide to somehow move on.  

 

 

For many of us, “Beast on the Moon” won’t be a lesson in “never forget” but rather one of learning a part of history that should never have been forgotten. 

 

 

Menendian says, “We want people to know that this history exists.  There is a hole in the collective Armenian soul because the Turkish government has never recognized the genocide.  Instead they say mistakes were made and that it was just World War I and some of the unintended consequences of war.  It was actually a planned ethnic cleansing.  The more non-Armenians know about this the more they can take a stand.  Most Armenians would accept a formal apology and move on.   We hope that in a very small way this play will put this history out there to more people.

 

 

“…This play dwells on the rise of the Phoenix from the ashes.  It’s not just about the genocide, but about the effects on people as they move forward.”

 

As someone who spent almost an hour last summer looking for an Armenian Church concert venue in Istanbul (Holy Vortvots Vorodman Church) that was apparently unknown to dozens of Turks just within blocks of the church location, it is particularly astounding to learn that “Beast on the Moon” has recently been translated into Turkish.  Official Turkish recognition of the Armenian holocaust may be a long time in coming, but when it comes “Beast on the Moon” may be an important milestone of how it came to be.

 

 

Raven Theatre has compiled a number of companion events and exhibits to also focus attention on this 100th Anniversary of the Armenian genocide, from conversations with the playwright, to art exhibits, related play readings and more. 

 

For information and tickets visit the Raven Theatre website or call 773 338 2177.

 

Now through June 6.

 

Raven Theatre

6157 North Clark Street

Chicago

 

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Photos:  Menendian family photos courtesy of Michael Menendian; “Beast on the Moon” production photos by Dean La Prairie; historic photos of Armenian life and diaspora courtesy of Raven Theatre.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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