“Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” produced by Washington Ensemble Theatre

More bizarre even than the idea of a tiger waxing philosophic on the morality of eating children for sustenance is the reality of the American invasion of Iraq. It is this latter absurdity that is central to Rajiv Joseph’s gripping, thought provoking, even funny, wonder of a play.

Baghdad is a confused and frightening place in 2003. American soldiers are jumpy. Iraqi translators are befuddled. Iraqi people continue to be victimized.

In this play, two young American soldiers are assigned to guard the zoo. Kev (Ryan Higgins) is immature, cocky, and somewhat stupid. Tom (Jonathan Crimeni) more mature and more self interested, brags about looting the Palace of Uday Hussein and coming away with a gold-plated gun and toilet seat. His postwar financial security is guaranteed, he thinks. But of course it isn’t. This is war and terrible things happen in war. Predatory beasts and armies have much in common.

Throughout the play the living and the dead roam the environs of Baghdad interacting with one another. The tiger (played with quiet dignity, intelligence and fine timing by Mike Dooly), is killed early in the piece, but his spirit continues to offer erudite commentary about what’s going on, forcing the audience to consider profound questions more frequently addressed by philosophers and historians.

Michael Place directs this regional premiere, with finesse. Profoundly moving and not easily forgotten, it’s offered on a simple set and acted by superb performers who seem fluent in Arabic as well as English. Consider it a good bet for thoughtful theatregoers.

Through Oct. 7, Washington Ensemble Theatre, 608 19th Ave. E., Seattle, (206 325-5105, www.washingtonensemble.org).

Leave a Reply