Edgeville Buzz

Immigrants Are Haunted By Memories Of Genocide In Raven’s Current Production

Beast_MoonIt could be described as a rather straightforward tale about a set of young immigrants coming to America to create a new life. Yet a careful look at the slideshow that begins the “Beast on the Moon” indicates that this is more than just a story about a quest for new opportunities. At the center of The Raven Theatre’s final play of the 2014-2015 season is a narrative about what it takes to move on from horror.

Playwright Richard Kalinoski’s play is centered around memories of the Armenian genocide. This first ethnic cleansing of the 20th century historically began on April 24, 1915, and resulted in the extermination of roughly 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of Ottoman Turks.

“Beast on the Moon” is especially meaningful for co-artistic director and co-founding member of the Raven Theatre Michael Menendian. His Armenian grandparents had to escape the genocide, and his own daughter, Sophia Menendian, plays the role of wife Seta in the play.

“I had wanted to produce this script for many years,” he said. “But as the centennial commemoration was approaching, it seemed only logical to put this on now. It was important for me because I am well aware that most of my non-Armenian peers and friends are not very familiar with this piece of history. Since the large majority of our patron base is not Armenian, I felt that this would be a good way to enlighten people without proselytizing.”

“After all, it is ultimately a simple love story between two people from very different ways of life coming together and trying to forge a marriage while also starting their lives all over from scratch,” Michael Menendian adds.

The play begins with Aram Tomasian, played by Matt Browning, telling his new wife Seta about what he expects in his home. A serious, rigid man who seems to lack a sense of humor, he is taken aback by Seta’s lively and opinionated personality. Seta is a mail order bride who, the audience learns, has come to live with Aram in 1920s/1930s Milwaukee, Wisconsin, by mistake. Yet it’s that mistake that has saved her from the genocide. Aram, meanwhile, is the only remaining member of his family who was not exterminated by the Ottoman Turks.

As they spend the next two years trying to conceive a child, the couple that seemed destined not to get along eventually learns to work together. Little by little, Seta works to establish a more balanced relationship, eventually announcing that she will call her husband by his first name instead of by his last. Yet there is still no baby.

When young orphan Vincent, played by Aaron Lamm, enters the scene, he’s filthy and willing to work for food, but his appearance finally explains why an older man, played by Ron Quade, has been narrating the play.

“This play is very familiar to most Armenians,” Michael Menendian said. “It was first performed in the Chicagoland area about 20 years ago at the now defunct Apple Tree Theatre, where most local Armenians saw the show for the first time. What I hear from many of the Armenians who see our version is that they don’t remember it being as powerful as our production.”

Thursday’s production also included a display of major works by Armenian-American artist Jackie Kazarian. Audience members also had an opportunity to view an authentic Armenian orphan rug. Thousands of orphans and refugees who had been victims of the genocide were resettled in the Middle East and placed in orphanages throughout the region. They were taught rug weaving to give them a skill for their adult lives, a press release said.

The “Beast on the Moon” continues until June 6. Performances take place on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and on Sundays at 3 p.m. General admission is $36. The Raven Theatre is located at 6157 N. Clark St.

For more information, visit www.raventheatre.org.

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