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Theatre Review (LA): Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph at The Mark Taper Forum

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Musa (Arian Moayed) is a gardener in Bagdad who has been put in charge of creating a topiary garden for the murderous Uday Hussein, who later rapes and kills Musa’s sister. Then the fall of Baghdad breaks out and all hell breaks loose. Living beings are killed in ghastly ways and yet hang around to haunt Musa. Uday it seems is still hanging about but this time he is carrying the decapitated head of his brother.

The most impressive ghost is the ghost of a Bengal Tiger (Kevin Tighe) who, after biting off one soldier’s hand, waxes philosophically about life and what it means to be a carnivore, and ultimately challenges the very existence of God. If God is now and everywhere, then God is this war, these deaths, and this insanity, where a gardener could turn murderer, and the world is topsy turvy, so much so that even the dead, animal and human, hang around trying to settle scores and trying to figure out its meaning.

The play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was written by Rajiv Joseph and is as articulate a play as one is like to encounter. It was deservedly up for a Pulitzer and in the eyes of many should have won for its writing and its imaginative way of discussing the meaning of the meaningless war in Iraq.

The marvelous director of all this is Moises Kaufman who allows us to slip between the various worlds presented in the play but never forgets to find the humor as well as the humanity.

There is a lot of symbolism in the play. The Tiger bites the hand that feeds him just like the Iraqis did to Americans. Uday’s golden pistol and gold toilet seat become, for one soldier, the reward and thus the meaning of this battle.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Kev (Brad Fleiser) is a lovable dummy while Tom (Glenn Davis) is a greedy exploiter. He even comes back after his hand is bitten off to get his just reward, a gold toilet seat. While motives and reality are often fluid, the message of the absurdity of it all is crystal clear.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo plays the Mark Taper Forum until May 30th. This play is a must see.

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