Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Michael Weller's new play at New York Theater Workshop starts well and has an intriguing idea: it's basically a political horror thriller. Two Iraq war vets—one with facial scarring and a missing left arm; the other with a missing right arm (they joke that together they're a single person), a horribly disfigured face and the hint of something much worse—return to the U.S. and embark on a cross-country journey in order to avoid going back to their homes. At intermission, Catherine and I both agreed that we found the premise intriguing and were curious to see where the piece would go.

Act Two, unfortunately, did not live up to promise of the first half for me. There are some plot twists that I won't divulge here, but the ending left me feeling that a liberal artist had indulged in a bit of wish fulfillment; frankly, I was disappointed. There's a lot more dark humor in the second part (although I thought the ubiquitous stereotype of the ignorant Southern truck driver was a cheap target) and the metaphor that Weller creates—that the members of this Administration have become monsters by pursuing the war in Iraq and that the soldiers who are paying the real price are their "portraits of Dorian Gray"—resonates, but the resolution of the play feels ham-handed.

The production, directed by Jo Bonney, is well-crafted and the actors all do a very good job. I liked the idea of Eugene Lee's simple set design, which utilized crates painted to look flag-draped to create many of the set pieces, but I felt the rearranging of them at the scene changes interrupted the flow of the play too much. Fortunately, the video by Tal Yarden and sound design by David Van Tieghem go along way toward mitigating this: they don't entirely compensate, but they help.

All in all, there are moments in Beast that are disturbing, compelling and completely unforgettable; I wish I liked the whole that contains them more.

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