Written by Michael Weller
Directed by Jo Bonney
Starring Raul Aranas, Jeremy Bobb, Dan Butler, Lisa Joyce, Logan Marshall-Green, Eileen Rivera, Corey Stoll
Performances from August 29 to October 12, 2008
New York Theater Workshop
79 East 4th Street
In Michael Weller’s Beast, Benjamin Voychevsky—a U.S. soldier killed in a Baghdad firefight—climbs out of his coffin and joins another badly disfigured soldier, Jimmy Cato, for a series of surreal misadventures that begin at a German military hospital and end on Crawford, Texas ranch, where they confront their Dr. Frankenstein.
Weller subtitles Beast “a fever dream in six scenes,” an accurate summing-up of a play that rarely articulates his anger over the bungled Iraq war, regardless of the honest rage laid bare in every line of dialogue on every page of the script. The soldiers’ horrifying scars (which cover much of their faces, thanks to Nathan Johnson’s terrific make up) and missing limbs are typically unsubtle metaphors for what’s happened to the men and women who have fought over there, but in a playwriting rant as obvious as Beast, that’s to be expected.
The trouble with Beast is that, although its soldiers’ searing wounds are literally exposed at the surface, the play is rarely able to move past that and convincingly explore this war’s seemingly permanent damage to our national psyche. Instead, Weller preaches to the choir: the largely liberal New York audiences who attend his play are expected to nod their heads in agreement.
By making Benjamin a zombie who tracks down his “creator” George Bush (or “GW”)–after awakening from the dead, he’s impervious to stabbing and shooting, not even bleeding when attacked–Weller enters the realm of trashy horror movies, but he never does anything interesting with this shopworn but potentially effective metaphor. After all, if George Romero can beat his “living dead” conceit to literal death in movie after movie, surely Weller’s “fever dream” could have become even more feverish.
Beast is an interminable two-plus hours, and the anticlimactic final scene at Bush’s ranch where the soldiers confront the president (a nicely-turned impersonation by Dan Butler) and explain how his legacy can be insured drags on, so much that one longs for an equally uninspired Saturday Night Live political sketch.
Ironically, Beast is strongest in its opening scene, as Jimmy sits in front of his friend’s flag-draped casket and pours out a litany of heartfelt bits of dialogue about everything the playwright fails to illuminate over the next two hours. Also quite touching is Jimmy’s self-pitying interaction with a pretty young sergeant; here, after a few minutes of director Jo Bonney’s inventive blocking, we get our first glimpse of Jimmy’s hideously scarred face, a creepily effective moment. Otherwise, Bonney bulldozes the audience with lots of noise in a vain attempt to cover up Beast’s gaping holes. Her actors also perform admirably under the circumstances, even if they are reduced to broad caricatures: Logan Marshall-Green (Jimmy) and Corey Stoll (Benjamin) make their soldiers frighteningly real, which is more than one can say for Weller’s superficial play.
Originally posted on timessquare.com