Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Also see Susan's reviews of The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity and Jacques Brel ...

Danny Gavigan, left, and Felipe Cabezas
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, opening the season at Round House Theatre in Bethesda, Maryland, is a difficult work to describe. Rajiv Joseph's play is a hallucinatory look at life in a war zone, larded with absurdity and crowded with ghostly presences—and it's both funny and chilling.

The setting is Baghdad in 2003, brought to life on Tony Cisek's evocative set with its broken arches and elaborate metalwork. Two Marines, hotshot Tom (Danny Gavigan) and dim Kev (Felipe Cabezas), are guarding the tiger cage at the bombed-out zoo; the tiger (Eric Hissom), for his part, has a more philosophical view of what's going on than the Marines do. Then things get a little strange, beginning with the appearance of a gold-plated handgun that once belonged to Saddam Hussein's sadistic son Uday (Pomme Koch).

The tiger prowls throughout the play, ruminating on such issues as whether a carnivore should feel guilt about the animals and people he eats. Tom and Kev cross paths with Musa (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh), a translator with haunted memories of his life before the war. Soldiers lie about the nature of their injuries and people gain understanding after they die.

Director Jeremy Skidmore is just the right person to bring this vision to life; he has demonstrated his facility with non-realistic drama in the past (his staging of The Lieutenant of Inishmore for Signature Theatre some years ago comes to mind). His direction makes the audience see and understand a world where no one is quite sure what is real or how anyone should behave.

Robin Williams famously played the tiger in the Broadway production of this play, but Hissom's winning portrayal is closer to the dry cynicism of George Carlin. Ebrahimzadeh gives the standout performance as a man tortured by his complicity in past acts of evil and his uncertainty about what survival means.

Special credit must go to composer/sound designer Eric Shimelonis and lighting designer Andrew Cissna for their masterful work. The sounds of helicopters and bombs blend with strobes and sudden blasts of light to set the scene instantly.

Round House Theatre
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
September 5th - 30th
By Rajiv Joseph
Tiger: Eric Hissom
Tom: Danny Gavigan
Kev: Felipe Cabezas
Musa: Maboud Ebrahimzadeh
Uday: Pomme Koch
Hadia/Iraqi Teenager/Nurse: Salma Shaw
Iraqi Woman: Nadia Mahdi
Directed by Jeremy Skidmore
4545 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD
Ticket Information: 240-5644-1100 or

Photo: Danisha Crosby