When I missed the world premiere production of Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City last year, I thought I’d really blown my chance to see anytime soon what had been almost universally raved about as an extraordinary play from a daring new voice in American theater. I figured from Culver City it would next be off to New York and if I was lucky the play might make its way back to Los Angeles in a few years.
So when I learned it was going to be a part of the Mark Taper Forum’s current season, I was overjoyed at being given this second chance, and this past weekend I came away from the performance I saw absolutely astonished at the experience. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, and I won’t waste time trying to wrap it up in a neat little summation when Moises Kaufman, the show’s director, has already done so when talking about the playwright:
“He takes a world that is part Quentin Tarantino and part Gabriel Garcia Marquez and he makes it work.”
Does he ever.
With a phenomenal and fearless cast anchored by veteran actor Kevin Tighe as the anthropomorphized title character, Bengal Tiger manages to be both uproariously hilarious and brutally harrowing — sometimes simultaneously. Set in 2003 Iraq, it is as insightful as it is intense.
Let this Tiger escape you and you’ll be missing theater at its most authentic, audacious, dynamic, and compelling. And there’s no knowing when it might return.
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo plays through May 30 at
the Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Avenue; more info.