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Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

a Drama
by Rajiv Joseph

VENUE : 7 Stages [WEBSITE]
ID# 5131

SHOWING : September 14, 2017 - October 08, 2017



Two American marines and their Iraqi translator’s lives are irrevocably changed when they meet a tiger who haunts the war-torn streets of Baghdad. As he witnesses the puzzling absurdities of war, the tiger encounters Americans and Iraqis who are searching for friendship, redemption, and a toilet seat made of gold.

Director Michael Haverty
Girl & Hadia Marium Khalid
Tiger Kevin Stillwell
Tom J. Joe Sykes
Kev Markell Williams
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Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright
by playgoer
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Rajiv Joseph’s "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" transports the audience to war-torn Baghdad, starting at the zoo being guarded by a couple of U.S. soldiers. One soldier taunts the caged tiger and has a hand ripped off; the other shoots and kills the tiger. The tiger is the first ghost we see. Soon we see many more. By the end of the show, that’s almost all we see.

In Joseph’s vision of the afterlife, the dead gain knowledge they never had in life. This leads to many ruminations on mortality, God, and one’s place in the grand scheme of things. The affecting plot lines carry most of the show, but the ruminations preponderate as the show winds down.

There are three major story lines, concerning the tiger (Kevin Stillwell); two American G.I.’s (Markell Williams and Joe Sykes); and Uday Hussein (Sam Younis) and his gardener (Rudy Roushdi), who has become a translator for the Americans following Uday’s killing. Their stories are fleshed out with the addition of two females, Marium Khalid (playing a prostitute and the gardener’s sister) and Paris Benjamin (playing an Iraqi woman and a leper). Several of the cast members speak in Arabic -- some exclusively; some in alternation with English. The translator lets us understand whatever is important.

This is a good, solid play, and director Michael Haverty has shaped it for maximum impact. He is aided by Vii Kelly’s tremendous effects, Paul Mercer’s evocative stereophonic music, Alice Neff’s creative costume design, and A. Julian Verner’s effective props. Lito Tamez’s set design mostly uses movable set pieces to establish location, but also utilizes a scrim that separates the downstage area from an upstage area that is dominated by a huge setting sun painted on the back wall. This scrim nicely allows lighting to snap out the ending of scenes, especially when one character is behind it and another in front. Otherwise, Stevie Roushdi’s lighting design tends toward the dim, with some pools of light slightly smaller than the space on stage in which the actors move.

Performances are all splendid. Kevin Stillwell invests the tiger with power and rage and introspection. Markell Williams sparks the scenes he’s in with quirky intensity, while Joe Sykes plays his role humorlessly, getting laughs with his deadly seriousness and total commitment to his character. Sam Younis gives Uday the ruthless charm of a tyrant, and Rudy Roushdi plays the gardener with tremendous heart and pain. The women impress too, in their far smaller roles. The acting couldn’t be better.

The only drawback to the show is its length. The first act keeps interest throughout, but the second act drags out the resolution of its three story lines by dedicating an extended scene to each. It’s interesting and thought-provoking, but not as compelling as the lead-up to the resolution has been. All in all, this is a terrific production of a play by an important contemporary playwright. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]


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