Search Tower Company’s ‘Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo’ is dark and grueling

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Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a dark play by Rajiv Joseph takes place in the midst of war in Iraq. The production takes place in the Joyce Doolittle Theatre in the Pumphouse Theatre, produced by Search Tower Company. It’s a grueling two hours of drama, where ghosts walk among the living, haunting and haunted, searching for peace in the ruins of war.

The play tells of a tiger (Kristal MacWhirter) in the Baghdad Zoo who is being guarded by American soldiers Kev (Joel Taylor) and Tom (Steve Rimke). Tom taunts the tiger who mauls his hand off and winds up getting shot by Kev. The tiger becomes a ghost who remains on earth to contemplate life and death and war. She runs into Musa (Ahad Mir), who is working as a translator for the US army and is haunted by his own ghost Uday Hussein (Constantine Combitsis). The play is full of atrocities of war, ignorance, and brutality.

Search Tower Company’s production features moving performances from Mir and Taylor as well as Rimke. There are two women who are part of this play as well, Elisa Mancina and Fatima Zaroual who play minor roles. They mostly serve as fillers within the narrative. MacWhirter’s performance is flat and doesn’t stir any emotion within the audience. Her narration slides more on the side of grating instead of an overarching voice to tie things together.

Aidan Lytton’s sound design pulls the scenes together, setting it in Iraq. Troy Couillard’s set design is fascinating and illustrates the garden that is a fixture in the play.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is a slog and in the end, the narrative doesn’t come together enough to have the entire play be worth it. The audience doesn’t come away with a lesson that resonated. The play danced in circles around the point of the play, it introduces tons of brutality to illustrate the violence of war but doesn’t really have it all come together.

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo runs until tomorrow. More information is available online.

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