Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo First Draft Reviews

Here is where you can post your reviews of the production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.

2 Comments on “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo First Draft Reviews

  1. One of the most potent qualities of a work of art is its link to the time period in which it was created. Sometimes this connection takes the form of an overall mood or topical subject matter. In other works, current events serve as the framework for the characters’ journeys, as is the case for Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo. Presented by LaGuardia Community College, this wartime drama gives the audience an intimate look into the lives of several individuals in Iraq in 2003, as well as the demons that continually hound them.

    It all starts with a Bengal Tiger locked up in a cage. All of a sudden, a U.S. Marine taunts the animal with a bit of beef jerky and gets his hand bitten off as a result. His friend shoots the animal dead, and its ghost steps free of the cage. For the rest of the play, we follow the two soldiers and the tiger’s ghost (represented in the show by a human actor) as they reflect on the incident and try to find new meaning in life. Also part of the mix is an Iraqi gardener hired as a translator by the Americans, whose heartbreaking past continues to haunt him in his new life.

    Perhaps the greatest strength of this play is its willingness to present ideas and metaphors as concrete reality. As one character puts it, “When things die, they don’t just go away.” Indeed, even the characters that are killed during the show don’t simply stop appearing. They stick around, often only visible to those closest to them, experiencing an afterlife that is hellishly similar to the world they just supposedly left. This concept may be pure fantasy on the playwright’s part, but those impacted by the horrors of war can carry similar burdens in the form of their own thoughts and memories.

    The fantastical side of the play is brought to life beautifully by LaGuardia’s technical presentation. The set itself is extremely minimalistic, consisting mostly of a few wooden block formations and four tall grates that serve as anything from cage bars to garden fence. However, these few set elements are manipulated to create a seemingly endless variety of spaces which the audience understands almost immediately. The lighting and sound design also help fill in the emotional gaps, creating the image of a war-torn desert vista through a simple yellowish glow and the muffled sounds of far-off explosions. The only instance in which this minimalistic presentation didn’t quite work was for the scenes taking place in a lavish topiary garden. This location would be understandably difficult to recreate on-stage, but an image that powerful and distinctive (not to mention important to the story of the play) just begs to be seen.

    The fear and stress that comes with life in a war zone isn’t an easy thing to recreate on stage, but the actors of LaGuardia did an all-around fantastic job. In particular, many of the characters had dialogue in Arabic, and their believable accents make it seem possible that some of them are native speakers. All of the lead actors, especially those playing Kev and Tom, the two main American soldiers, and Musa, the Iraqi interpreter, are able to bare the souls of their characters as they face their bouts vicious anger and crippling fear. Even those onstage who function largely as stagehands don’t break the illusion of the play’s world, as they are dressed in either U.S. military garb or traditional Iraqi clothes. The bravery and cohesion of the performers contributed a great deal to the play’s sense of reality.

    A minor but noticeable hitch in the show, which may perhaps only be the fault of this particular venue, has to do with the sound system utilized. Though the sound effects themselves were crisp and contributed well to the sense of drama and realism, when there were no effects playing one could hear a subtle static hum, almost like white noise. While this was only audible from time to time, it did have the effect of pulling one back to reality. Fortunately, with this play, that feeling of detachment from the story never lasted long.

    “Bengal Tiger in the Baghdad Zoo” is a thoughtful, exciting, and powerful experience, due in no small part to the efforts of the talented artists from LaGuardia Community College. Their dedicated performances and skillful use of stagecraft made the show into a gripping emotional journey that is both honest and timely. Their use of the theater medium to stimulate the imagination through a potent blend of reality and fantasy is a remarkable achievement.

  2. When was the first time a Tiger told you a play. It was a first for many on January 30th at the KC/ACT festival, when there was a performance of the “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.” The story told by a humanized tiger, about being killed in Baghdad by two USMC soldiers. The play was performed in the smallest theater at the festival, “the black box” named rightfully so. Fitting roughly 100 people, the room was square with black floors and walls, chairs surrounding the small stage from all 3 sides. You could touch the lights if you sat in the front row, and could walk on stage with just two steps. Such a small space allowed us to see the actors in great detail, as if we were right next to them as things unfolded. So close you can see spit fall from their mouths every time a character would get angry. The lighting was dim, and the room was slightly fogged, giving us an underground coffee house feel. The set was dressed in metal bars, arranged to make a cage, as a jungle noises started to fill the room. For those who don’t handle war or death well, this play might be difficult to watch, as death and mental illness are a huge part of the play. The costumes were very well done for the Marines, their own take on a catalogue suit, down to the skivvies and dog tags. One thing that seemed off, at least for those with knowledge of the US marines, was the way the soldiers treated their rifles. US marines live and die by their rifle, and their rifle is part of their life, so much they must memorize a creed dedicated to just their rifle. “My rifle is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life.” If trying to go for authenticity, the soldiers in the play did not block this well, as they took their rifles off and left them laying around in the public. Marines are known to sleep with their rifles, and their carelessness could have been on purpose to show that they were bad marines on the job, if that was the approach. However when dealing with everything else, to costumes of the natives, dialects of the Arabic people, and prayer positions were all convincing. All the actors did a wonderful job, and were well cast. I cannot say this enough. The commitment to the roles were also noticeable, especially with two men who had no lines. They were injured in the leg arm, and as they helped transition the set, one man would drag his leg as another avoided using his injured arm, even as the lights were almost completely dim. The tiger was artistically designed well. He did not wear an animal suit, but red and gold clothes from the native culture which was beautiful. The language barrier in the play gave us such a real feel for how difficult it can be to live in another country without being able to speak the language. There was music that was played as the actors changed set, and it was cultural music which seemed appropriate. Except one transition was accompanied by loud rock music, that did not seem to fit anywhere and was defiantly confusing. The sounds came from one corner of the room, and if you were unlucky enough to sit in that corner, you might have gone deft by the time the play was over. Gunshots were unnecessarily loud, that you could hear the white noise right before the sound effects would happen. Transitions happened through the aisles of the room, bringing in props through the doors we entered, which was defiantly new, and a smart use of the small space. The lighting was well choreographed to help us see the action happening inside someone’s mind, and actions happening in real time. The play was filled with heavy moments, with some jokes tossed in to try to lighten the dark mood. War topics will always sit differently with different people, but the audience could all agree that the craftsmanship that went into this piece was wonderful. A standing ovation reflected this agreement. The cast all joined for a group hug, with huge smiles and biting back tears. It was a heartwarming sight. This is defiantly a great play to show how you can make creative choices with limited space, and still take the audiences breath away.

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