Elise Annunziata (Senegal 1996-99) was nice enough to alert me to another RPCV playwright, Rajiv Joseph (Senegal 1997-2000), who had served with her. Rajiv’s play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is currently running at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Los Angeles, and Charles McNulty writing in a LA Times review, says, “Bengal Tiger is no ordinary play. I’m tempted to call it the most original drama written so far about the Iraq war, but why sell the work short? The imagination behind it is way too thrillingly genre-busting to be confined within such a limiting category.”
The play came about because Rajiv read a small (200 words) newspaper article in September 2003 about an American soldier stationed in Baghdad who reportedly killed a Bengal tiger at the local zoo after the animal maimed a colleague who was trying to feed it. “When I read the article,” Rajiv says, “I was touched by the tiger’s death in a way I couldn’t locate. I thought it was a tragic thing, which was strange because there were far worse things going on at the time.”
From that he developed a play that focuses on the consequences of miscommunication and the persistence of traumatic memories. The play follows the relationship between a translator, a pair of American soldiers, and the ghost of the tiger that has been killed.
Born in Ohio-his father is an immigrant from India-Rajiv got a graduate degree at New York University, went to Senegal as a PCV, and later worked in the dot.com world before writing full time. He has had plays produced with small companies–Second State and Cherry Lane–both in New York. So far, most of his dramas have had Asian themes or characters. The Leopard and the Fox(2007), for example, was about the 1977 overthrow of Prime Minister Zulfikar Al Bhutto of Pakistan.
This play opened at the Lark Theatre in New York and has been performed elsewhere in the U.S. Joseph continues to rework and doctor the play even today.
This past October Bengal Tiger received a grant from the NEA as part of its New Play Development program. He has also won a Kesselring Fellowship for emerging dramatists and the Paula Vogel Award for new playwrights given by New York’s Vineyard Theatre.
In Los Angeles at the Kirk Douglas Theatre, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo will close on June 7. Right now it is in performance Tuesday through Friday, twice on Saturday, twice on Sunday.