Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

April 6, 2011

This play, starring Robin Williams, is not really a Robin Williams vehicle.  He does a fine job because he is a good actor, but he is at his best doing improvisational comedy.  Not only his best, but THE best of anyone, and in the category of his mentor, Jonathan Winters, who inspired his frenetic brand of train-of-thought comedy.  But don’t expect to see that.

The play does work, however.  The rest of the cast plays very well with special kudos to Arian Moayed as Musa.  Everyone is alive in wartime Iraq at the beginning, including a tiger in the zoo who is under guard.  His tiger nature gets him in trouble and he ends up a ghost.  So he is seen only by other passed-on beings – isn’t that the way it goes generally? 

The play captures the tension of war quite well, it seems, although only those who have served in combat can really make that assessment.  There is jitteriness among all the characters, military and civilian, who are waiting to explode at any time.  A couple of great lines in the play:  “even a dead man enjoys a Cuban cigar,” is one.  Perhaps the most poignant is:  “God has spoken.  This world is what He said.”

Director Moises Kaufman does a fine job of negotiating a hodge-podge of sets, one of the real challenges of stage directing.  In movies you have few constraints, but in theater you have a certain space and the action must take place without loss of flow.  Tricky when you have multiple sets.  Mr. Kaufman has had a long, successful  career including Broadway and London’s West End productions.  He has numerous Tony and Emmy nominations for writing and directing and has won an Obie for directing.

The metaphor “make ficky fick” was amusing referring to sex and the context was funny, but I was put off by over use of F bombs.  Language is nuanced.  When nuanced words are used to excess, they lose that quality which is their reason for being in the first place.  Unnecessary and off-putting.