The e-mail to my sister went something like this: Arrrgh!!
Maybe I was overreacting a little bit, but I was upset. I had just received a discount offer to see the play “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” with Robin Williams for $47.
It sounded like a good deal. Big name star, decent price--for Broadway, at least. The only trouble was we had already seen “Bengal Tiger,” we weren’t terribly impressed, and we had paid 87 bucks for the privilege.
Like I said… Arrrgh!!
This is the risk you take when you want to be ahead of the curve. When we heard Robin Williams was coming to Broadway, we pounced on a chance to get tickets. We didn’t know anything about the show, but the problem with Broadway is that you’re either first or you're toast.
My father used to tell us about a time many years ago when he thinking of buying tickets to a new musical that was going to open on Broadway. However, he decided to hold off until he read the reviews.
The musical turned out to be a little show called “South Pacific,” and it’s safe to say that it got some pretty good reviews. In fact, the reviews were so good that tickets sold out instantly and you couldn’t get near the theater for the next three years.
We didn’t want to repeat that mistake so I went to the Richard Rogers Theater box office one night after work and picked up some preview tickets. (Richard Rogers wrote the music for "South Pacific," by the way.)
Williams plays the eponymous—don’t you just love that word?--tiger in the equally eponymous Baghdad zoo who is caught up in the American invasion.
He appears to the audience as a man and speaks to us directly, giving a tiger’s eye view of the madness that follows the invasion. And he becomes a victim of that insanity minutes into the show when he is gunned down while gnawing off an American soldier’s hand.
“I get so stupid when I get hungry!” his ghost declares as he looks over his own corpse. It's something you could say about humans, too.
He spends the rest of the play as a ghost prowling around a crumbling topiary garden, commenting on life, death, and war. Robin Williams is very good in the role and he has some great lines as he ponders the existence of God.
“It’s alarming, this life after death,” he says at one point. “The fact is, tigers are atheists. All of us. Unabashed. Heaven and hell? Those are just metaphorical constructs that represent ‘hungry’ and ‘not hungry.’ Which is to say, why am I still kicking around?”
Unfortunately, the tiger is also the most interesting character in the play. The story also features two American soldiers, an Iraqi translator who once tended the topiary garden, and the ghost of Uday Hussein, who walks around the stage carrying his brother’s severed head in a plastic bag.
I didn’t find any of this to be terribly moving or convincing. By the time the play is over the theater is crawling with ghosts—they outnumber the living—and I really think the playwright should have limited his story to just the title character’s wandering spirit.
I feel duty-bound to mention that both the New York Times and L.A. Times raved about the show. I’m assuming they saw the same one I did.
I also have to say that while I wasn’t thrilled with the play, there’s nothing like the experience of live theater. I’m a movie freak through and through, but I still love seeing real people performing before my eyes.
I haven't reached that point where I am so jaded that seeing a play is a routine activity--and I hope I never do. When you go to the theater it’s always an enchanted evening.
So we didn’t luck out this time. These things have a tendency to even out and I know that if we hadn’t gone to this show, we’d be kicking ourselves for missing it—just like my father did with "South Pacific".