Bengal Tiger Dramaturgy
By Sabrina KhanSenior Plogger Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is a politically driven play with music combining complex issues of fact and fiction surrounding the Iraq War. Characters withstanding (including two American soldiers, Kev and Tom, a tiger, an Iraqi translator, Musa and Uday Hussein, one of infamous tyrant Saddam Hussein’s equally infamous sons), this play is playwright Rajiv Joseph’s supernatural interpretation of the delicate intricacies of the Iraq War. It takes a little bit of prior knowledge and brushing up on the facts pertaining to this period to follow and understand the liberties Joseph takes with them to tell his unique story. Here are the ABC’s: 1. Operation Iraqi Freedom
Operation Iraqi Freedom, or more colloquially the Iraq War, officially began on March 20, 2003. Born in part from the reaction to the fight against terror following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the search for weapons of mass destruction (WMD’s of chemical/biological/nuclear nature) in Iraq, then United States President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair led a multinational force under US troops to invade Iraq. It was later found, when the invasion was already underway, that there were no such weapons in the country, but the fight continued and the invasion became an occupation. In Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, American soldiers are seen occupying this territory and guarding a tiger in a zoo. These soldiers are also associating with Iraqis on a daily basis, whether by providing security, going on raids, or working with them. They're but some of the ways Joseph shows the infiltration of war and the army in everyday of life of Iraqis. 2. Uday and Qusay Hussein
A major purpose of the Iraq War was to depose the country’s leader, Saddam Hussein, due to his alleged ties to terrorist groups and WMDs, and capture other major leaders of the former government. In the summer of 2003, troops were able to kill or capture 300 of these individuals, including Hussein’s sons Uday and Qusay. In December 13, 2003, the leader himself was found and imprisoned. Soon brought to trial, he was convicted on November 5, 2006, of charges related to the 1982 killing of 148 Iraqi Shi’ites and sentenced to death by hanging. Hussein was executed on December 30, 2006. In this play, Tom claims he was one of the soldiers on the mission that killed Uday Hussain. The plot also purports that Musa had worked in Uday's garden and they are connected by this fact and another traumatizing memory only revealed later in the show. Uday's character haunts Musa, and his brother's decapitated head even makes cameos. 3. American Military in Iraq
The American military has a great presence in Iraq. Like mentioned before, the occupation of the country has made soldiers and their actions commonplace. Acts and conditions of war are eminent in all corners and though Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo only focuses on a handful of characters, it shows how Iraqis have come to see them as ordinary. One scene shows an Iraqi prostitute, clad in a hijab, with a soldier. Its disturbing nature is that it may just be an ordinary part of life, or Joseph's imagination of how far their presence has reached. Another example of this shows the tiger roaming among ghosts of children, though they are invisible to the audience, who the tiger describes are deeply physically wounded and completely used to war, which stuns the tiger. A complex rendition of the Iraq and almost idiosyncratic political references, these are just the simple facts to know and understand while watching Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.