Skip to content

Bengal Tiger misses Pulitzer; targets Taper

April 23, 2010

Listen to this story here.

When the United States invaded Iraq seven years ago, the Baghdad Zoo became part of the collateral damage. Playwright Rajiv Joseph read at the time that many animals escaped or died. He developed “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” a Lark Play Development Center in New York, first as a 10-minute piece, then as a full-length play. It premiered last year at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles, and was a finalist for this year’s Pulitzer Prize in drama. The production reopens Sunday at the larger Mark Taper Forum, with the original cast and creative team. 

Kevin Tighe plays the Tiger in the title – and its ghost. You might remember him as Paramedic Roy De Soto from the 1970s NBC series “Emergency,” a show that brought him celebrity. He didn’t like that attention. 

“I just had a hard time figuring out how to be more than who I was I guess.” He chuckles. “There’s something about all that where they, you know, all of these people recognize you and it was a little frightening, really.” 

Tighe said was uncomfortable around kids his own age and got kicked out of a few schools. “I was able to [eventually] get into theatre, drama departments, and establish some sort of rapport, and there I could afford to be aloof and still command a certain amount of respect, I guess.” 

Over time, Kevin Tighe developed into a character actor. That helps when you play a tiger that serves, really, as a tour guide for the audience. Playwright Rajiv Joseph said that between the original run at the Kirk Douglas Theatre and now, he gained new insights about the tiger. 

“He’s moving through this play with a journey and, in the previous incarnation of the play, he disappears, literally, in stage time, but also in terms of that journey. He disappeared in the second act, and then reappeared near the end of it. And I wanted to take the opportunity to start the act with him because that seemed to me right. The way we have this now with Kevin’s monologue to begin the act, and the staging that [Director] Moises [Kaufman] gave that monologue, I feel is a very powerful moment in the play, and one that I’m very happy with.”

Act Two opens this way, says Tighe. “All the lost ghosts of the city are present in various manifestations and the tiger enters into this. And part of his monologue addresses his meeting with a little girl and this moment that they have in this garden, and the possibility, the expectation perhaps, that there is a god who might be listening, hopefully.”

“Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” is, in part, a search for answers, for proof. It’s partly set in the garden of Saddam Hussein’s presidential palace – full of large topiary animals, now ravaged and neglected. Toward the play’s end, the tiger mistakes the Arab gardener for God. Rajiv Joseph shares the gardener’s line. “God has spoken. This world – this is what he said. And the tiger feeds off of that line, and that takes us to the close of the play.”

Joseph said he’s tweaked the ending twice a day, every day, for two weeks. The year-long break between productions led him to move away from a speech about God. “We were searching for something more active, and more in line with the tiger, as a character’s, desires and needs and wants and nature, keeping true to the fact that this is a tiger – and what does a tiger fall back on? His most basic, primal needs.”

Tighe adds, “And when he dies, even as the ghost, he’s not thinking about getting laid, you know?” Joseph laughs as Tighe continues, “He’s well beyond that, you know? It’s survival. It’s acceptance.”

And for Joseph, “That seemed to be a truer, more authentic way to end this play, rather than a speech about God.”

“Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”opens at the Mark Taper Forum on Sunday.

No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: