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Saturday, 16 April 2011 11:17

Broadway Review: BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO

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Robin Williams in BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO Robin Williams in BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO Photo: Carol Rosegg

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, the new play by Rajiv Joseph and starring the vastly talented Robin Williams, is a haunting look at Baghdad in 2003. It takes place immediately after the American invasion. The tale is told in part by a Bengal tiger (Williams) who we get to see in both life and death. This play is full of ghosts, the least of which is the ghost of America’s involvement in a costly, elongated war. It's a point that's hard to miss in this gritty, but very funny, play.

Williams is in scrappy clothing and has a ragged heavy beard and disheveled hair.  His sardonic delivery suits the role of the perplexed tiger brilliantly. "Why am I here? Why aren't I gone?" the tiger asks himself. He's caught between this world and the next. "To die in captivity in a Baghdad zoo. What a life." Despite what you might be expecting, Williams is always in complete control.  While the role wasn’t written for Williams it seems like it should have been.   

Kev, is a reckless American Marine hyped for action and dumb as a box of dirt.  His buddy Tom, also a Marine and only slightly brighter is the “greedy American.”  The men are charged with guarding the tiger's cage.  While tormenting the tiger with a Slim-Jim the tiger bites Tom's hand off.  Kev shoots it with Tom's gold semi-automatic pistol, stolen from Uday Hussein, the son of the dictator, in a stand-off.  Kev is slightly over-played by Brad Fleischer. His performance settles down though after his character dies and carries on as a ghost.  His character goes from utter moron to sharp as a tack know-it-all, even speaking fluent Arabic.  Glenn Davis as Tom is believable as the bitter marine who feels owed after losing his hand “in a war.”  He has only two things on his mind, his now-missing gold pistol, which Kev has taken from him in the scuffle of  him losing his hand; the other is a gold toilet seat which he won in a poker game with his sarge.

This is an ensemble piece and Robin Williams' role is not even the largest role in the cast.  That honor goes to Arian Moayed as Musa, an Iraqi Arabic translator for the American troops.  By trade he is a gardener.  His work is on display in the form of giant animal topiaries on the grounds of the zoo.  Moayed's performance is intense.  He is both an eager student of the casual English phrase, and a man broken after the rape and killing of his little sister Hadia (Sheila Vond) at the hands of the younger Hussein.  This war has destroyed his life as an artist and he is doing whatever is necessary to survive.  

Hrach Titizian as Uday Hussein is suave and commanding.  He carries with him the bloody head of his dead brother Qusay in a plastic bag.  This point was lost on me.  I thought perhaps something in the way Qusay died (was he beheaded?) might have called for this decision.  But it turns out they were both killed in a gun battle.  While it’s funny, I don’t necessarily understand why the playwright chose this.

This play is artfully directed by Moisés Kaufman.  He weaves together the living and the spirit world with ethereal alacrity.   The gardener’s topiaries have been distressed and loom large on Derek McLane’s eerie set.  His set, which includes ancient domineering walls, portions including lattice work, is strikingly lit by lighting designer David Lander.

This is a funny play despite its serious subject matter.  The playwright uses humor to make the after-effects of war palatable to an audience.  I suggest you see Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo before it’s too late.  The play is a limited run through July 3, 2011.

View Full Production Credits on IBDB.com

Additional Info

  • Theatre: The Richard Rodgers Theatre
  • Theatre Address: 226 West 46th St. New York, NY 10036
  • Show Style: Play
  • Previews:: March 11, 2011
  • Opening Night: March 31, 2011
  • Closing: July 3, 2011
Last modified on Saturday, 16 April 2011 14:19

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