Monday, May 10, 2010

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

I was lucky enough to see the world premier of Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo at the Kirk Douglas Theatre last year, and I was so excited when the Mark Taper announced that they would be remounting it this season. I mean, when a show contains dialogue like, "I'm sorry I'm bothering you, but you're the only person who can hear me besides the Tiger, and the Tiger just keeps bugging me about epistemology and original sin, which is as annoying as fuck," you know you're intrigued. Did I mention this is a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer?

Directed by Moisés Kaufman (The Laramie Project), this show examines the war in Iraq with razor blade humor and heart-wrenching honesty. Having seen it last year, I had somewhat prepared myself for the blood and loss, but the intimate space of the Taper brings the hopeless feeling of Baghdad right into the pit of your stomach. The acting in this show is absolutely flawless, bringing the story in and out of time and reality, seamlessly traveling from before and during the American occupation. Joseph's triumph in this piece is that he blames no one power for the suffering: The Americans are (literally) chasing after golden toilet seats, and the Hussein family rapes, murders, and tortures their own people. The only downfall in the piece is that it offers no sense of hope, ever. The ghost of the Tiger from the blown-up Baghdad zoo (an atheist in life, apparently) discovers in death that his soul must be lingering on earth because of God, but God never shows himself to reveal why he is prolonging the endless suffering.

This is a beautiful show and I think it will serve history with a vivid image of how this war is being perceived seven years into it: If possible, how do the good people living in a crumbling city stay good? And if neither of the powers that fought over it were looking out for the best interests of those good people, then what now?

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