After the curtain rises, and following the requisite applause that comes with seeing Robin Williams for the first time on a Broadway stage, you're immediately thrust into a peculiar place and unfamiliar territory. It's hard to keep up with Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo at first -- by the time you accept that the narrator for this innovative production is a tiger locked in a cage, he is killed, leaving you with a ghost of a tiger as your agent instead. But for all the confusion and uncertainty that define the early parts of the play, Tiger has a clear point (and point of view) to make.
In fact, those early, confusing moments lend themselves well to what comes afterward. We witness scenes from Iraq in 2003 full of turmoil, regret, doubt, and suffering. Williams, in his role as the deceased tiger, is less a victim of warfare and more a representation of aggression, inhumanity, and mistreatment. He haunts his killer, Kev (played by Brad Fleischer), who shot the tiger after it attacked his fellow American soldier, Tom (Glenn Davis). In that charged moment, Kev had no choice but to unload on the tiger; he was being heroic, after all.
Yet, in the days that follow, it becomes too much for Kev to carry, and he can't escape the image of the fallen tiger. The play hammers home its metaphors and lessons arguably to a fault, but the message sticks with you: Man, particularly in times of war, can be as brutal as beasts.Even the most reserved and respectable characters find themselves dragged into the cycle of brutality and terror of the times. Arian Moayed is superb in his role as the soft-spoken gardener, Musa, whose life is turned upside-down by the troubles and affairs of others.
All of the characters in the play, beyond their vast differences, diverse backgrounds, and language barriers, are tied together. They all have their demons that fiercely shadow them and torment them. The audience often gets first sight of the ghosts that come and go with ease throughout, never coming as a surprise but always with immense significance and philosophical insight. While it's Williams' tiger who gets the most stage time, fellow actor Hrach Titizian's Uday Hussein casts the largest shadow. Uday demonstrates the power and impact that a person of the past can have on living beings, as he gallivants around inside Musa's imagination.
For a play set during wartime, there's very little in this play about actual war. Rather, it's about how interrelated and intertwined people are, even once they're gone. Their presence lives on, for better or worse. Even a ghost of a tiger has insight to share, wisdom to impart, and unanswered questions to consider. Along the same lines, you wind up leaving the performance with the play's characters stuck in your head.
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