It’s hard to imagine a more absurd cast of characters than two American marines, an Iraqi gardener-turned-translator, and the ghosts of a captured tiger and Uday Hussein, all of whom show up in Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, which opens October 1st at the San Francisco Playhouse. “But if you commit to it,” says Craig Marker, who plays one of the soldiers, “you can bring the audience along with you.”
The play centers on some particularly bleak happenings during the American invasion of Iraq. Imagine Waiting for Godot with more gunfire. A tiger bites off the hand of a Marine, whose partner then kills it. The ghost of the tiger then roams the streets, pondering violence, war, and God—while the Americans hunt down a golden toilet seat that once belonged to Saddam Hussein’s son Uday.
“There aren’t plays like this with humor and darkness and hope and magic realism,” says Gabriel Marin, who plays the other Marine. The play had its first run in Los Angeles, before moving to Broadway—Robin Williams took on the part of the tiger—where it was nominated for three Tonys and a Pulitzer. “The Playhouse has been wanting to do this for five years,” says Marin.
Between this production, Grounded, which recently completed its run at the Playhouse’s black box, and Berkeley Rep’s An Iliad last fall, it seems as if the Bay Area is in the midst of a swell in plays about the Iraq invasion and the War of Terror. (That's not to mention national films like The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty.) In many ways, it's no different from works about the Second World War or Vietnam that follow those conflicts. “I think we’re following the same timeline of our understanding,” says Marin. “It’s proportional to the time it takes for vets to return home, tell their stories, and work through the repercussions of their traumas.”
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo runs at SF Playhouse from October 1st to November 16th. For more information on click here.