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A CurtainUp Review

I did what my Commander in Chief ordered me to do. I don't want pity. I want fucking respect. Respect and thanks.— Cato
Corey Stoll as Benjamin Voychevsky and Logan Marshall-Green as Jimmy Cato (Photo: Joan Marcus)
Yes, another Iraq war play. Beast, by Michael Weller follows two emotionally and physically maimed veterans: Jimmy Cato (Logan Marshall-Green) and Benjamin Voychevsky (Corey Stoll). Voych, as Cato calls him, not only lost an arm but is a bizarrely disfigured Frankenstein-like figure, and thus the title character.

The play also fits the sub-genre of buddy road trip, in this case a pretty surreal journey that takes these men from a military hospital in Germany, across America and to the Crawford, Texas ranch of their Commander-in-Chief. The subtitle, A Fever Dream in Six Scenes, is more than apt.

Marshall-Green and Corey Stoll give potent performances as the two maimed veterans and their journey is imaginatively and quite cinematically choreographed by Jo Bonney (strongly supported by composer/sound designer David Van Tieghem video designer Tal Yarden's projected images). There's quite a bit of physical pain and blood for Cato but not for Voychevsky (I won't be a spoiler with too much detail). As for this being a comedy, it's hard to laugh about the tragic loss of lives, limbs, and the nation's honor.

Damaged as they are, both men remain committed patriots and the American flag is a visual leitmotif throughout. They're angry, not because they were put in harm's way and suffered truly awful consequences, but because they feel their sacrifice has gone unappreciated. And the playwright uses their wild journey to vent his own angry reaction to the fallout of the mismanagement of our this war and the Afghanistan war which New York Times long-time Mideast reporter Dexter Filkins has dubbed The Forever War (recently published by Alfred A. Knopf). And so, each stop on Cato and Voych's journey from that hospital storage room to the Texas ranch where George W. Bush spent approximately 400 days of his presidency, is a chillingly absurdist look at the cultural climate created by this " forever" war.

The other five cast members each play at least two characters and do so very well indeed. On the men's first stop in America, we meet Captain Adler (Dan Butler) whose red shoes obviously symbolize the war's blood money profiteering and Victor Leung (Raul Aranas) whose pimping business is thriving courtesy of two blind prostitutes (Lisa Joyce and Eileen Rivera) — perfect for easing self-conscious disabled men back into sexual activity. In keeping with the play's darkness, Adler's blood-red shoes end up on the feet of one of the traveling buddies' feet.

What Voych wants most of course is to go home. Sadly, Thomas Wolfe's oft quote title, You Can't Go Home Again, turns out to have a devastating new meaning when it comes to Voychevsky's going home to his wife Bonnie-Anne (one of Lisa Joyce's three roles) and the baby he never saw. The dark glasses Bonnie-Anne wears even in her living room instantly signal that she's as much under siege inside her home, as her husband was in Iraq.

It's after we see the men at Mount Rushmore National Park where the faces of Washington, Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Lincoln are seen upstage and smartly animated by puppet designer Bob Flanagan, that Beast veers into an ever more bizarre direction. It turns out that the Evangelical Christian (Jeremy Bobb who gives them a ride is going to Texas and not, as they thought, Alaska (Bobb's line "Alaska is a shithole. . .No one goes to Alaska on purpose" got a huge unintended laugh courtesy of that state's suddenly high profile Governor). From there it's on to another living room, this time at the Crawford Ranch of G.W. (Dan Butler again). G.W. is polite enough to the unanticipated intruders and initially this meeting plays like a Saturday night skit. But with the Mount Rushmore images still fresh in their minds, his visitors come up with a way to bring their fevered dream to a darkly purposeful conclusion.

While Weller leaves the audience — the usual choir who attend and applaud anti-Iraq War, anti-Bush and Company plays— with something to gleefully laugh about, the reality of America since 9/11 and under the stewardship of this administration, has taken on aura as surreal as any fictional drama, a sci-fi saga that strikes many as no less over the top than Beast —and, sad to say, not a fevered dream that can be contained in five scenes but a very real forever tragedy.

This is not the only Weller play premiering Off-Broadway this fall season. His Fifty Words, a two-hander starring Norbert Leo Butz and Elizabeth Marvel and directed by Austin Pendleton is currently in previews at MCC Theatre.

Other Michael Weller Plays reviewed at Curtainup:
Buying Time
Heart of Art
What the Night is For

Written by Michael Weller
Directed by Jo Bonney.
Cast: Raul Aranas (Mr. Aziz/Victor Leung), Jeremy Bobb (Schlynn/Smalldon/J.T.), Dan Butler (Captain Adler/GW), Lisa Joyce (Lieut/Sherine/Ann Voychevsky), Logan Marshall-Green (Jimmy Cato), Eileen Rivera (Lt. Mariana Sanchez/Camilla), Corey Stoll (Benjamin Voychevsky). Scenic design: Eugene Lee
Costume design: Colleen Werthmann
Lighting design: David Lander
Sound design: David Van Tieghem
Video design: Tal Yarden
Make-up and effects design: by Nathan Johnson
Puppet Design: Bob Flanagan
Fight Director: Thomas Schall
Stage Manager: Linda Marvel
New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) 79 East 4th Street, between Second Avenue and Bowery. 212/239-6900
From 8/29/08; opening 9/15/08; closing 10/12/08
Tuesday at 7:00pm, Wednesday through Friday at 8:00pm, Saturday at 3:00pm and 8:00pm, and Sunday at 2:00pm and 7:00pm.
Tickets are $65; CheapTix Sundays, $20; student tickets, $20. Running time is Approx 2 hours and 5 minutes, including intermission
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer 9/13/08
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