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THE BEAST’S A BURDEN

 

picture - BeastTheater Review

by Harvey Perr

published September 26, 2008

 

Beast

now playing Off Broadway at the New York Theater Workshop

through October 12

 

When you enter the New York Theatre Workshop, the stage is black except for a razor-thin sliver of bright white light. As the evening progresses, this image becomes a metaphor for the play, Michael Weller’s Beast, which seems to wallow in obfuscation but which, every so often, lets in a glimmer of light; the light does not necessarily provide clarity so much as it provides a sudden burst of illumination. This is one holy mess of a play, but, since Weller describes it as a “fever dream,” it could be argued that the messiness is intentional and purposeful. That does not keep us from leaving the theater strangely unsatisfied. In telling a story of two soldiers wounded in Iraq who make the journey home through a series of Swiftian adventures, Weller tries so hard to avoid the easy satiric thrusts of political theater, as well as the potential mawkishness of the situation, that he merely demonstrates anew how hard it is to write a coherent play

whose aim is to examine some of the horrors of this war.

 

We are asked right off the bat to believe that Jimmy Cato actually believes his dead officer Benjamin Voychevsky is not dead at all, even though he looks, in his serious wounds, like an incarnation of Frankenstein, and is given to strange movement and, on occasion, even stranger utterances. The sight of the two of them on their travels together is clearly meant to appear mythological, brutal and nightmarish on one level, wildly comic on another. And, in truth, it does manage to be one or the other, and even both simultaneously, here and there, every so often, but it is wrought from the start with a serious suspension of belief on our part. Their trip takes them through an incident with an army officer who is selling arms to the enemy, a visit from blind prostitutes, a maddening hour at the Voychevsky household, an encounter with a Jesus freak near Mount Rushmore, to the home of President Bush (or G.W. as he is known here) which ends in an unexpected but somehow thoroughly predictable conflagration. These scenes vary greatly in their ability to shock or amuse us or to give us some sense of the terror Weller wishes to evoke.

 

Jo Bonney, whose flaccid direction fails to demonstrate sharpness of vision (in the way that David Lander’s aforementioned startling piece of lighting does), is primarily at fault for the wildly inconsistent performances which do not help, as they should, bring focus to what transpires. The always brilliant Dan Butler brings acid-etched intensity to the part of the officer selling arms to the enemy. And Lisa Joyce is disturbingly truthful as Voychevsky’s “war widow,” and creates a memorable image of one of the blind whores.

But almost everyone else seems to flounder around the stage in a curiously unfocused way.  The estimable Logan Marshall-Green (as Cato) and Corey Stoll (as Voychevsky) have their moments, but they are also at the mercy of some indifference, in both the play and the direction, that makes it difficult to care about anything very deeply.

 

It should be mentioned that the evening does produce one moment of brilliance that could not have been anticipated: the mere mention of Alaska gives the audience an opportunity to indulge in some derisive laughter that cleanses the soul and thrusts us powerfully into the political present.

 

harveyperr @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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