Monday, October 7, 2013

"Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG

"You get hungry, you get stupid," says the tiger, which pretty much sums up Rajiv Joseph's "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo." The tiger was captured several years ago from his home in India, tranquilized and sent to the Baghdad Zoo. Now, the zoo and everything around him has been pulverized by American bombing, the lions have all escaped and been shot on the street, and the tiger is faced with an existential dilemma.

Will Marchetti plays the Bengal tiger with excellent large-feline angst. He feels guilty for his transgressions in the past, especially for killing and eating several small children, but he can't figure out why God would make him a predator and then get angry at him for preying. He also can't fathom why so many Iraquis are still worshiping a deity who would allow the horrors under which they must now live their daily lives.

Meanwhile, two marines, sympathetic Tom (Gabriel Marin) and dense Kev (Craig Marker), have been stationed to guard the zoo.  It doesn't end well for either one, nor does the story get any more heartwarming with the entry of translator Musa (Kuros Charney) and Uday Hussain, Saddam's evil son (Pomme Koch). War is Hell, and death is only the beginning.

Joseph is a beautiful writer. The story and the characters twist and turn. At the end of Act One there is no way to guess what will happen in Act Two. In the end, we are left with the only explanation of human behavior that has ever made any sense: "You get hungry, you get stupid." And we get it from the mouth of a tiger.

RATINGS": ☼ ☼ ☼ ☼ BANG
The San Francisco Theater Blog Awards Division awards "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" Four Stars with a BANGLE of PRAISE. We get a brilliant, offbeat story, terrific performances as well as excellent direction by Bill English. The BANGLE is for Pomme Koch's depiction of Uday -- he is chilling while convincing, evil while sensible. A lesser actor might go over the top -- Koch does not. A monster like Uday Hussein feels completely believable. This is the scary part.


"Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo"
San Francisco Playhouse
450 Post Street (2d floor of Kensington Park Hotel)
San Francisco
Through 11/14