Review: Beast on the Moon; BAC, London

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The Independent Culture
In 1893, there was an eclipse of the moon in Turkey. The Armenian population looked on in bemusement as the Turks, determined to kill the creature that must be causing this, shot furious guns at the sky. Richard Kalinoski's Beast on the Moon derives its title from this incident with some justice, for it was the Armenians who went on to provide the Turks with a less nebulous scapegoat. Widespread pogroms in the late 19th century culminated in the genocide carried out under cover of the Great War.

Set in the United States in 1920, Kalinoski's gem of a play focuses on two of the survivors of that horror in which nearly two million Armenians died. At the start, we see Aram Tomasian, who has established himself as a photographer in Wisconsin, welcoming to his apartment Seta, his 15- year-old "picture bride" from Armenia. She's very pretty, but Aram is a little peeved because she doesn't match the face in the photograph he selected. In fact, that girl is now dead: they probably sent him that picture, explains an amused Seta, because her own face was covered with sores from the bed bugs in the orphanage.

This comedy of misunderstanding sets up a pattern in which Corinne Jaber's enchanting Seta keeps having to try to modify with her humorous realism the inflexible life-plan of Simon Abkarian's outstanding Aram. It's a play which shows that, while we must not deny the past, there is a risk of clinging to it too tightly. Humane, funny and touching, Beast of the Moon presents the claims of both past and future with fairness and empathy.

You can see why Seta finds it oppressive to live in the presence of Aram's family photograph from which the heads have been cut out. It's her task to replace those brutally beheaded people with new lives, a feat of which she is incapable since starvation at the hands of the Turks has left her infertile. On the other hand, you can understand why his dreadful past has made Aram want to be his photographer father reborn: he would like his life to constitute an exemplary photograph album.

This production, by Irina Brook (daughter of Peter), beautifully echoes the charged simplicity of the writing. The events from the early 1920s are mediated to us by a narrator (Nicholas Amer) whose interest in the story is eventually explained. As a little boy (the splendid Benji Hall), he had been picked up off the streets by Seta and, after initial resistance from Aram, became the son they could not have. It wasn't clear why, even when he was supposed to be filthy from the streets, this urchin was presented as spotlessly clean. Nor did I believe that Seta would have loaned him Aram's father's coat: she would have understood the symbolism and given him anything but, unless she wanted to incite the conveniently stark row it produces here. Small blemishes, though, on a wonderful evening.

n To 2 June. Booking: 0171-223 2223