Saturday, September 15, 2012

Haunting Tigers

Late again to recap the Thursday preview performance of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, now playing at Round House Theatre in Bethesda.

Danny Gavigan and Felipe Cabezas, photo by Danisha Crosby

Eric Hissom (the Tiger) by Danisha Crosby

Maboud Ebrahimzadeh and Pomme Koche, by Danisha Crosby

Maboud Ebrahimzadeh, by Danisha Crosby

I will say first that this powerful play was powerfully performed in spite of a sleepy weeknight audience. There are times when I think a production can be too overpowering for its audience. We sat there in the dark for far too long before erupting into polite applause. I felt sad for the actors, who were nothing short of phenomenal.

Such is the theatrical experience.

The play delivered what I thought was lacking in last year's ravages-of-war production, ReEntry.  The latter offered monologue memories of what happened "over there," while the Baghdad Tiger shows what happened, both internally and externally, for the soldiers grittily but poignantly played by Danny Gavigan and Filipe Cabezas. The lesson is that moral questioning doesn't end with death, and that guilt lives on to haunt us.

Eric Hissom as the anthropomorphic Tiger achieves enlightenment in death but remains the creature of basic needs that he was born to be. "Heaven," he determines, is simply where he is not hungry.

The deteriorating garden where translator Musa (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) has constructed his fantastic topiary "zoo" is both "God's garden" to the Tiger and Uday Hussein (Pomme Koche)'s garden, a tribute to ego and self-indulgence (and a place to lure Musa's young sister to her ruin).

Again, responding simply as a member of the audience, I wish my friends could have shared the experience with me. (Some can't tolerate the violence, others the cussing). It wasn't escapist entertainment with a tune to whistle the rest of the week. It was what theater, to me, is supposed to be: a place to feel something and experience something and think about something I would not otherwise feel, experience, or think. And it haunts, long after the darkness descends.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Jeremy Skidmore, plays through September 30, 2012.

Tiger: Eric Hissom
Tom: Danny Gavigan
Kev: Felipe Cabezas
Mousa: Maboud Ebrahimzadeh
Uday: Pomme Koche
Hadia/Iraqi Teenager/Nurse: Salma Shaw
Iraqi woman: Nadia Mahdi

Kudos also to the sound designer, Eric Shimelonis, for just a fantastic, full-immersion aural experience.

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