Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

By Dalia Wolfson11th Grade Hunter College High School The zoo is a magical place. It’s easy for us to justify a visit to the animal garden by claiming that our main fascination with the experience is seeing curiosities — living creatures running, eating and scratching each other. Yet always there is the understanding that we can cage animals because we are inherently superior and are on the lookout for entertainment. It takes a play like Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo to force us to question our own humanity. The play transforms the theater into a warzone. The audience is plunged into the Iraq War and follows the characters’ paths as, one-by-one, they become ghosts. Robin Williams plays a rather talkative and philosophical tiger who is killed by an American soldier. A gardener-turned-translator struggles with the ghost of his former employer and son of Saddam Hussein. The personalities of soldiers and Iraqis are hinged upon tense interactions, and it is difficult to imagine them in a peacetime situation. The young soldiers are emotionally vulnerable, succumbing to violent tendencies due to the weapons in their hands like small boys with water guns. The gardener struggles with his loyalties, questioning the two images of the soldier as either liberator or looter. It is only in the afterlife that the characters fill out — after death, they are calmer and capable of appealing directly to the audience with full honesty. The juxtaposition of life and death and of real and supernatural in this play is startling, particularly in a context of the relevant, contemporary issue of the Iraq War. It forces the audience to confront a conflict oceans away, and to consider the psychological and physical toll of war on both sides. By the end of the play, it is difficult to distinguish between animal and human: too much blood, violence and deception intervenes. The tiger receives the honor of the last word, concluding that we are all “chasin’ our own tails.” But the time has come to walk on two feet and think like human beings. By Rajiv Joseph. TICKETS: $27 lottery rush • Richard Rogers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St. website