War. We all hear about it, some of us live it, others create it and a tiger gets to watch it, in the new play, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, written by Rajiv Joseph. Through the eyes of this gruff and ghostly echo of a feline, we are taken on a journey to try and answer the question that has eluded man since the dawn of time: what is the meaning of life?
Two American soldiers; played by Glenn Davis and Brad Fleischer, are posted at the Baghdad Zoo to guard the Bengal Tiger, played by Robin Williams. Out of boredom, Davis’ character decides to taunt the beast only to have his hand bitten off, resulting in the tiger biting the bullet. Yet this is only the beginning, for beyond the veil our tiger finds himself wandering the streets of Baghdad, contemplating the weight and worth of life – both his and others – only to find he is not alone with this question.
Making his Broadway acting debut at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, Robin Williams portrays the freely philosophizing, atheist cat of this drama set in war-mangled Iraq. The fact of the matter is, Williams was clearly brought into the production to sell tickets. Unfortunately, with the popular “big-name-only,” bug that has bitten Broadway, without an actor like Williams' name to marquee the show, Bengal Tiger would most likely not have made it to Broadway. Even with Williams not being in the solo spot of leading man, his performance is nonetheless quite excellent. Unrelentingly funny, Williams delivered his lines with spot on comedic timing, exemplifying his stand-up comedy background, making him well suited for this type of role. The supporting cast consisted of Arian Moayed (Musa), Glenn Davis (Tom), Brad Fleischer (Kev), Necar Zadegan (Iraq Woman, Leper), Hrach Titizian (Iraqi Man, Uday), and Sheila Vand (Hadia/Iraqi Teenager). All did an exceptional job of carrying the show, however, in this reviewers opinion the only supporting actor who was almost impossible to enjoy was Brad Fleischer, who whined and groaned throughout the entire production, making it was unbelievably challenging to become tolerant of his poor vocal dynamics.
Although it could be said that the youth in this day and age have become numb to expletives, the use of cursing in this production did not give the "edgy" factor, but hindered the piece as a whole. Excessive foul language in a play equaled more of a writer's weakness than anything else. Although it could be argued the use of foul language sets the tone of times of strife and tension of the situation at hand, the excess use of such words made David Mamet’s work look ‘G’ rated children’s flick. For the first twenty-minutes of the play, the plot was lost among “F” bombs, and not the talk of bombs. We get it, you are hard-core. MOVE ON!
On a lighter note, the technical design of this already impressive play was just incredible. The lights, designed by David Lander, and sound, designed by Cricket Myers, were nothing short of amazing, creating one of the most foreboding and intimidating atmosphere encountered to date. From the moment the doors open, the audience is hit with the bloodcurdling sounds of war in Baghdad alongside of flash bombs and explosive light specials all throughout the show. Set design by Derek McLane enthralls the audience in regality of Baghdad for the majority of the play, only for the entire set to be lifted up towards the end, placing us in the desert – creating a visually stunning picture throughout the entire show.
Although Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo had its entertaining and impressive moments, it is safe to say that this show is not suited for all viewers. Full of harsh language and pressing issues in today’s society, this show is not for the holly-jolly, happy-ending theatre goers and may come off as offensive. But if you are brave enough to venture into the concrete jungle, wishing to venture deeper into the bloodshed jungle, then by all means, come step into this tiger’s cage. Bengal Tiger at the Bagdad Zoo is now playing at the Richard Rogers Theatre in NYC.
Review By: James Russo & Kyle Conner
Review By: James Russo & Kyle Conner