San Francisco Playhouse - the city’s ‘Off-Broadway company’ - brings to Bay Area audiences one of the most interesting American plays of recent years. Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is a Tony nominated and 2010 Pulitzer finalist by Rajiv Joseph, directed for San Francisco Playhouse by Bill English.
Described by The New York Times as “A savagely funny and visionary new work of American theater”, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo has been pursued by Bill English for five years, because, he says, “It asks the biggest question of our lives, ‘Why are we here?’ We are all part animal, part spiritual, and our success at being human is defined by how we balance our two natures”.
Set during the time of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Rajiv Joseph’s play explores the power of human nature, and the dangers that bedevil it. The action centers on two American Marines and an Iraqui translator, whose lives are irrevocably changed by their encounter with the spirit of a tiger from the Baghdad Zoo, which haunts the streets of the war-torn city, puzzled by the absurdities of war, and seeking the meaning of life.
The San Francisco cast includes award winning Bay Area actors Gabriel Marin, Craig Marker and Will Marchetti. They are supported by Kuros Charney, Livia Demarchi, Pomme Koch and Sarita Ocon who make their Playhouse debuts.
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo - Joseph’s Broadway debut - was originally presented at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles, before its 2011 run on Broadway, which starred Robin Williams in the title role. Joseph’s previous works include Animals Out of Paper, Gruesome Playground Injuries and The North Pool. His most recent work is The Lake Effect which premiered in Chicago in April. Rajiv Joseph has this week been named one of the winners of the 6th Annual Steinberg Playwright Award, an honor organized by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust which recognizes the work of young and mid-career playwrights.
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo runs until November 1 at the San Francisco Playhouse, 450 Post Street (2nd Floor of Kensington Park Hotel, b/n Powell & Mason). For further information and tickets, call the San Francisco Playhouse box office at 415-677-9596, or visit www.sfplayhouse.org.
Footnote: The actuality behind Rajiv Joseph’s play is based on the amazing story of South African conservationist, the late Lawrence Anthony, who risked his life to rescue the animals in the Baghdad Zoo and in the private menageries of Saddam Hussein and his sons, which had been deserted by the dictator and his family when they fled the city after the 2003 invasion. The animals were left to starve, in conditions of appalling cruelty. With the help of a handful of staff from the zoo, and soldiers from the US military, Anthony saved the lives of these pitiful creatures, and set in place the reconstruction of the Baghdad Zoo which had once been the largest in the Middle East. The story is published in a book entitled Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo, written by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence.