Crow’s Theatre’s new mainstage production is the much-anticipated Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.” Crow’s was set to stage this show back in 2020, but unfortunately had to have the production postponed until this year, and is now a collaboration with Modern Times Stage Company and directed by Rouvan Silogix who is now their artistic director, however it was most certainly worth the wait. Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo takes place in 2003 during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and follows two soldiers during their time there, initially guarding what’s left of the Baghdad Zoo. A poignant story that delves into some of the most deep philosophical questions of humanity, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo surpassed any and all of my expectations.
I was thrilled to see that the Guloien Theatre was still set up in the round as it had been for Uncle Vanya, only beautiful carpets now covered the floor and topiaries dangle from the ceiling. While the solitary cage centre stage only stays there for the opening scene, the square seating arrangement consistently allows for a visible, vulnerable sense to permeate the story.
I thought the performances in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo were fabulous; these actors made us laugh and cry in equal measure. Kristen Thomson plays the titular Tiger, and masterfully takes us on the journey with her. Thomson’s comedic timing is perfect, and I loved listening to her talk about completely different things than the soldiers in the same scene. Andrew Chown and Christopher Allen play American Marines Tom and Kev respectively. Kev’s transformation throughout the play is shown so well through every aspect of Allen’s performance. However, the standout performances for me came from Ali Kazmi and Ahmed Moneka. Kazmi primarily plays the spirit of Uday Hussein, son of Saddam Hussein. He manages to make this bloodthirsty, horrible tyrant into a delightful comic relief. While on the other end of the emotional spectrum, Moneka’s Musa shows us the horrors, guilt, and realities of life under the rule of the Husseins. Musa’s wailing elegy at towards the end of the performance had me in tears; the beauty and pain he expressed through his voice are unlike anything I’ve heard before. Mahsa Ershadifar and Sara Jaffri round out this incredible cast; their female essence a stark contrast to the predominantly male representations of war and brutality discussed throughout the play.
I would actually love to go and see Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo again before it closes, I truly enjoyed it that much. I was left with so many questions, so many ideas about life and what happens after death. About the meaning and purpose we find in life, and what any of that actually amounts to. While these ideas are couched in a setting we all understand and recall as it’s part of our recent history, it’s the journey that Tiger, Kev, and Musa go on which drives the heart and the mind of this story. You simply have to witness this stellar piece of theatre yourself. For more information and tickets, visit: Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo – Crow’s Theatre (crowstheatre.com).
Photo by Dahlia Katz