Bengal Tiger at The Baghdad Zoo
Mark Taper Forum
The war in Iraq has inspired a variety of artistic responses. Few of the recent films have been compelling, but one of the most intriguing stage reactions has returned to LA. Rajiv Joseph’s haunting and clever “Bengal Tiger at The Baghdad Zoo” revolves around a few GI’s initially charged with guarding the animals, one of which acts as the ghost narrator.
The GI’s encounter several other characters: a translator, his sister and Hussein’s son. A gold plated pistol becomes a symbol of Hussein’s greed and US plundering. Most of the characters become ghosts, providing their wisdom from the perspective of the dead.
The direction by Moisés Kaufman (“The Laramie Projectis ambitious and mostly successful. The Taper’s thrust stage is used to fine effect, alternately a zoo, a desert, a topiary. Kev (Brad Fleischer) assays a fairly stereotypical grunt; picture Jeff Spicoli in fatigues. The one note tone of the character is fortunately given full flower when he commits suicide and is provided in death the intelligence he lacked in life. Tom, his fellow GI, is far more nuanced, and Glenn Davis does a fine job throughout.
Arian Moayed plays Musa, a gardener pressed into a role of translator by the US military. His interactions with the GIs and Uday Hussein (Hrach Titizian) are well-played. Veteran actor Kevin Tighe has the title role, and he prowls the stage with authority.
The comedic lines are interspersed with many thoughtful elements. The play premiered last year at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, and gained so much momentum that it has returned to its bigger brother theatre for the current run. (Another KDT production “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” has leapt to a larger stage, the Public Theater in NYC).
The batting average for books, movies or plays coming quickly on the heels of a recent war is not very strong. Films like “Apocalypse Now” or “The Deer Hunter” were exceptions, successfully arriving only a few scant years after the Vietnam War. “Bengal Tiger at The Baghdad Zoo” is a triumphant return for Los Angeles, and it is likely this play will withstand the test of time.
For more information, visit www.centertheatregroup.org