Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Beast

New York Theatre Workshop, September 6, 2008

I haven't seen lots of what you might call "political theatre," mostly because that's not the kind of theatre I'm drawn to.

Michael Weller's The Beast, now in previews at NYTW is such a play, pushing a very strong anti-war message. Jimmy Cato (Logan Marshall-Green) is mourning his sergeant, Ben (Corey Stoll) who was died after an attack in Iraq. Both had been wounded and lost limbs (Jimmy's left arm, Ben's right arm) and both were badly burned. Ben died unexpectedly and Jimmy is lost without his hero.

Well, Ben pops up out of the coffin and leads Jimmy on a tour of murder and havoc from Germany to Mt Rushmore to Crawford, Texas (exactly). The stage is not littered with bodies in Shakespearean fashion, but the results are gruesome nonetheless.

As a play, The Beast is still in its developmental stage. Mr. Weller was inspired to write in December of 2007 and finished the script at the end of January 2008 (fast track approval, huh?). He has a strong story and incorporates some very interesting and effective concepts, but it feels particularly unrefined as yet.

In the title role of Ben, Mr. Stoll's make-up becomes an impermeable mask. What's left is a lot of bluster and the sounds of forced emotion. Mr. Weller's script doesn't provide much for him to work from, either. The transitions from ghost to monster reveal appear in toggle switches from one to the other.

As Ben's side-kick Cato (Green Hornet, anyone?) Mr. Marshall-Green is much more successful. He has the advantage of a better-drawn character and a lighter make-up burden to bear. His opening grief over Ben's death is palpable, and we see his excitement at Ben's resurrection slowly degenerate into resentment, then apathy. It's a highly effective performance.

Supporting in multiple roles is Dan Butler, first as a sleazy Captain selling arms intended for US forces in Iraq to terrorists, then as GW (as in George W. Bush), taken hostage by Ben and Jimmy at the end of their quest for a mission with meaning. I won't reveal their horrific plan here (which does involve Mt. Rushmore). Mr. Butler has a grand time playing these two scheming, yet painfully short-sighted men.

Also worth note is Lisa Joyce, playing multiple roles from a German barmaid, to a blind hooker, to Ben's wife. She clearly delineates each character and is almost unrecognizable from one to the next.

Eugene Lee's sets incorporate some interesting concepts. I liked way he kept increasing the number of flag-draped coffin pieces which served as various furniture pieces, building up to a full flag backdrop in the final scene. It's a telling statement, our flag created from the bodies of soldiers killed in a war of questionable purpose and value.

NYTW is also offering the following to you:

Tickets for performances August 29 – September 7 are just $40 each (reg. $65).

Tickets purchased by September 15 for performances September 9 – October 12 are just $45 each (reg. $65).

Use code BST4LES when ordering.

To purchase tickets, call (212) 947-8844 or visit

New York Theatre Workshop also offers both Student Tickets and CheapTix Sundays.

CheapTix Sundays: All tickets for all Sunday evening performances at 7pm are just $20 each! Tickets are available in advance but must be purchased at the NYTW box office on a cash-only basis.

Student Tickets: Full-time students with a valid student ID may purchase $20 tickets for all performances (subject to availability). Limit one ticket per ID. Tickets must be purchased in person and require an ID at the box office.

The NYTW box office is located at 79 East 4th Street (between Second Avenue and Bowery) and is open Tuesday - Saturday from 1pm - 6pm.

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