WMU Theatre will perform Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo through Sunday, February 16th. The play is based on a true story about a tiger shot during the Iraq war. It follows the ghostly tiger around as he muses about war, life, and the existence of God.
The play, written by American playwright Rajiv Joseph, was first performed in 2009 and appeared on Broadway in 2011. The Los Angeles Times called it “the most original drama written about the Iraq war.”
Ryan Williams is the sound designer for Bengal Tiger. He says Western has borrowed some pretty spectacular digital projectors for the performance.
“Instead of doing a lot of physical sets, we’re doing more digital sets,” says Williams.
But Williams says the projectors aren’t just there as high-tech backdrops. They also jog our memories.
“My entire pre-show consists of clips and news clips of 9/11 attacks and the war and Bush talking about the war. You know it’s something very humbling when you sit there and you listen to hours and hours and hours of clips about people being killed and people being attacked in the war. It sad, it’s really sad actually. And I had to take a couple breaks sometimes and sort of step away from it to kind of let yourself breathe a little bit.”
The WMU cast and crew got another perk—insight from playwright Rajiv Joseph himself. Assistant Director David Lew Cooper says dramaturg Cara Beth Heath was able to ask Joseph a few questions.
“And she said ‘Who’s play is this? Who’s journey is this?’ And he said, you know, it’s everybody’s journey, but if he was going to say it’s somebody’s it’s Musa’s, Musa’s and the tiger’s,” says Cooper.
Alexs Krapivkin plays Musa, an Iraqi translator who is working with the Americans. Krapivkin says we often forget how difficult war can be for people not in uniform. Translators would face backlash from Iraqis and American soldiers alike.
“Because sometimes they would view translators as, you know, the people that they were fighting. Instead of the people that were helping them,” he says.
Bengal Tiger isn’t your typical war play—as you can guess based on the talking dead tiger. Director Mark Liermann says unlike many war plays, this one doesn’t choose sides.
“It must be an anti-Bush piece or it must be a pro-Democratic piece or a pro-Republican piece or a pro-army piece or marines. It’s not. It’s none of those things. It doesn’t try to shine a light in that way,” says Liermann. “It really tries to look at it from a much more metaphysical standpoint.”
Assistant Director Cooper adds Bengal Tiger is also funnier than most war plays. Robin Williams even played the tiger on Broadway.
“It helps us chill out a little bit so that we can keep going to those dark places that the play takes us,” says Cooper.
And there’s nothing darker than pondering violence and our own mortality.
Alex Langmesser is playing Kev, an American soldier.
“The thing I hear in my life people would say ‘Well if there is a God, why does he…why do bad things happen?’ And this play kind of answered that for me in a way,” he says. “It’s us. People make that happen. God doesn’t make bad things happen.”