Death on a broad scale is examined at ion theatre, which is staging Rajiv Joseph’s Pulitzer-nominated Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. Set in Iraq after the fall of Saddam, Joseph’s volatile drama traffics in guilt and ghosts. The central figure and truth-seeker is a tiger (Ron Choularton) wearing not stripes but rags. He prowls the stage, challenging God to explain or justify the way things are, violent and inexplicable as they seem to be. His rants are funnier and somehow more incisive coming from a “tiger,” though they feel at times stagy. Brian Abraham’s Arab gardener, Musa, is the play’s most sympathetic character: He’s a topiary artist, a reluctant go-between in the real and afterlife mayhem in Baghdad, and the purveyor of playwright Joseph’s weightiest words.
Claudio Raygoza, who also appears as Saddam’s eldest son, Uday, directs a charged cast that includes Jake Rosko and Evan Kendig as American soldiers who succumb to the lure of Saddam’s ill-gotten gold and to self-destruction. Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is thick with symbolism, but it’s also a story of man and beast, and how it’s hard to tell the two apart.
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.