Saturday night, I got super lucky and got a surprise — walking down times square to go to see this play. After screaming at tourists “New Yorkers coming through!” I managed to get into the theatre to see Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Theres a couple of small problems in the play, but they’re mostly to do with marketing. This is a controversial play, here: it’s about the Iraq war, or pretends to be, and has a greedy gold digging soldier as one of the main characters. the Saturday night production I saw wasn’t full, and it’s only been out for a couple of weeks.
So whats this thing about? It’s about a dead tiger who haunts american soldiers in Baghdad, after meeting Iraqis dealing with bad memories, other ghosts, and the gold-seeking adventures they’re on.
Firstly, the problem with this production is that one of the main characters is, the tiger; But it’s not the main character. In this production, the tiger is Robin Williams: and he steals all the marketing limelight. It’s a shame, since the other characters are excellent, and it feels that the tiger comes in for comic relief at intervals, telling us about the understanding that he’s attained in death. Ever wanted to hear a tiger having a moral dilemma about becoming a vegetarian? Robin Williams does it well. Ever wanted to hear Robin Williams say ‘motherfucker’ on stage and give you the finger? sure thing.
So he’s pretty good – but he’s not the center of the play, even though he’s the title character. The main action centers around the living (and dead) Iraqis and Americans in Iraq, who are all dealing with horrible memories from the place. One soldier has to deal with being haunted by the tiger he killed, an Iraqi remembers talking and meeting Uday Hussain, Saddam Husseins purely evil son, whilst a third becomes haunted by his own memories while chasing loot, in the form of a solid gold toilet seat to sell back at home.
It’s a sensationally well written play – the characters interact really well, and there are a lot of interactions between the ghosts and the living, which is interesting: it’s a good way for characters to reveal their feelings without the difficulty of monologues, and brings an added plot element that really works and grows on you as the play moves on.
The play is controversial because it’s set in Iraq — but it’s really not. The Iraq war is used as a really good hook for the audience – a familiar tangent from the reality of the news, and one that can hook into peoples imaginations. Iraq also gives a good platform to have forces of pure evil, as Uday Hussain, in the play, while allowing for completely flawed and endearing american soldiers to come into the picture. Theres not much that ties this to Iraq, though: it’s fiction, that reads well, and has a good current interest. It could easily be adapted to any warzone in the past, or hell, the future. What makes this special is the good writing thats endearing, intelligent and flows together.
Should you see it? sure. Don’t get fooled, and watch all the actors in the play: although most of the audience will be there for Robin Williams, the whole cast is fantastic, the dialogue is great. There might even be some people that leave, in disgust, by Robin Williams swearing, or by the portrayel of American Soldiers as imperfect. Ignore all that, keep listening to the dialogue, and you’ll walk out wondering what else you can see by the same writer (Rajiv Josef) or same director (Moisés Kaufman), or any of the other actors. You’ll probably be able to score a cheap ticket, too.