Theater review: 'Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo' -- 3 stars
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
“Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” a surreal Iraq War drama by Rajiv Joseph, received great reviews in its regional premiere and was a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist. But it probably wouldn’t have made it to Broadway were it not for the unexpected involvement of Robin Williams in the title role.Audience members buying tickets mainly to see Williams might not be ready for what they see. The challenging, nonlinear play lacks a coherent plot and consists mainly of conversations between living and dead characters. It also contains rough language, graphic violence and one very explicit scene with a young prostitute.
Williams, dressed to look like a homeless man, is playing the titular tiger. In the first scene, he is locked in a cage guarded by Tom and Kev, two American soldiers.
After being provoked, the tiger bites off Tom’s hand and is immediately shot and killed by Kev. For the rest of the play, the tiger continues to stalk the stage and deliver philosophic monologues to the audience. Williams’ background in stand-up comedy is well suited to this kind of role.
Tom, newly equipped with a prosthetic hand, returns to Baghdad in order to find two valuable items he previously stole: a gold toilet seat and a gold-plated gun.
The gun soon falls into the possession of Musa, formerly the gardener at Uday Hussein’s palace, who now works as an army translator. Uday, the original owner of the gun, continues to haunt Musa.
Staging the play in a large Broadway theater usually reserved for musicals does not work to the play’s ultimate advantage. Nevertheless, Rajiv’s intelligent drama, as staged by Moisés Kaufman, convincingly captures the chaos of Iraq immediately following the 2003 invasion.
If you go: “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” plays at the Richard Rodgers Theatre through July 3. 226 W. 46th St., 877-250-2929, bengaltigeronbroadway.com.