Kalinoski credits two films for influencing Beast: Terrence Malik's evocative turn-of-the-century period piece Days of Heaven (1978), and Francis Ford Coppola's dark, fatalistic The Godfather, Part II (1974). In Days, the story unfolds through flashback, as told in the older voice of a character reflecting on events in her past. "I find that use of the narrator admirable because there's a separate perspective instead of 'he did this' and 'she did that,'" Kalinoski says. He also was touched by the sparseness of Malik's film, as well as what he terms "the brooding silence" in Godfather II. Indeed, each of these qualities -- manifested in Kalinoski's sccinct characterizations, spare details, and pointed language -- inform Beast on the Moon.

As for theatrical influences, Kalinoski laughs, "I'm fascinated by what other people are doing, but I'm not particularly admiring of it." For example, while he admits Angels in America's author Tony Kushner writes with a dramatic flair, he also thinks Kushner indulges in "intellectual arias and ends up intimidating us because of the dimension of his intellect and the esoterica he uses. There's a measure of The Emperor's New Clothes coming out." In contrast, he respects the playwright William Mastrosimone, particularly for his play The Woolgatherer, which explores the offbeat relationship between a troubled salesgirl and a hard-drinking truck driver. He also admires Arthur Miller. "I teach Death of a Salesman every year," Kalinoski notes, "and I tend to go back to [it] as kind of a guidepost for my work."

In the tradition of Miller's best dramas, Kalinoski says he seeks to make his own work "both piercing and accessible." Beast on the Moon certainly accomplishes that goal. However, the New Theatre's production of the play suffers from overly methodical direction that slows down the proceedings in the first act. Additionally, Camilo Aladro delivers a lackluster performance as Vincent (Aladro plays Vincent on Thursday and Saturday nights, alternating the role with Sean Ferrer on Friday and Sunday). As the older Vincent, Bill Hindman assumes an air of patrician distance. At times this distance highlights the character's wistful sadness, while at other times it alienates the character from the profound emotions in the script. Also, because director de Acha has not seamlessly choreographed the narrator's entrances and exits, Hindman's arrivals and departures tend to be distracting. And while Steve Shapiro has composed a compellingly dissonant, near-Eastern flavored score, the music overlays rather than underscores too many of Hindman's monologues. On the other hand, Mikuni Ohmae's high-contrast lighting sculpts the faces of the characters, lending insight into their inner conflicts, and Michael Thomas Essad's mutely colored box of a set quietly evokes a pared-down immigrant home.

Ultimately, this production does pack a wallop, mostly owing to Pamela Roza's strong depiction of Seta and David Cirone's stunning interpretation of Aram. Although Roza offers a less shaded performance than Cirone does, she nonetheless transforms Seta from a child almost giddy with fear in the first scene into a dignified and loving woman in the last one, summoning reserves of strength and wisdom from within the character along the way. And Cirone imbues the self-absorbed, controlling Aram with a measure of vulnerability that is, finally, so raw I was left speechless at the play's end.

With Beast on the Moon reaching audiences around the U.S., and with staged readings of Kalinoski's new play Between Men and Cattle scheduled to take place in New York City and San Francisco in March, the playwright seems poised for wider recognition.

Beast on the Moon.
Written by Richard Kalinoski; directed by Rafael de Acha; with David Cirone, Pamela Roza, Bill Hindman, Camilo Aladro, and Sean Ferrer. Through February 11. Call 443-5909 or see "Calendar" listings.

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