Robin Williams is on Broadway in the New York premiere of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a play written by RPCV Rajiv Joseph (Senegal 1996-98). The story was the winner of the 2009 National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) award for Outstanding New American Play and was a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Today, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is at the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York for a limited run. It stars Robin Williams in tattered clothes as the eponymous tiger, roaming the streets of present-day Baghdad.
The lives of two American Marines and an Iraqi translator are forever changed by an encounter with this quick-witted tiger who haunts the streets of war-torn Baghdad attempting to find meaning, forgiveness and redemption amidst the city’s ruins.
The New York Times writes, “This boldly imagined, harrowing and surprisingly funny drama is wonderfully daring.”
In a recent interview, Rajiv, who started to write when he was in the Peace Corps, talked about how he came to write the play. “A few years ago, I read a tiny article in the back of The New York Times about a tiger in the Baghdad Zoo. It was only about two paragraphs long, but I was moved by reading about this animal that had been killed. It seemed so odd and surreal, and I just wanted to give the tiger a voice. I imagined what he would say-and that’s where the idea for Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo came from.
“It wasn’t bad enough for the tiger to be killed, but to be a Bengal tiger stuck in the Baghdad Zoo. I imagined the tiger would be pretty pissed off about things even before being killed. I assumed the Baghdad Zoo has to be a pretty shitty place to begin with, but being so far from home and knowing you’ll never get back must trigger a pretty horrifying existential crisis.”
We’ll run a review of Rajiv’s play in an upcoming blog on this site. Stay tuned.