Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
Broadway poster
Written by Rajiv Joseph
Date premiered  2009 (2009-MM)
Place premiered Kirk Douglas Theatre
Los Angeles, California
Setting 2003 Baghdad,
during the Iraq War
Official site

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo is a play by Rajiv Joseph. The show is about "a tiger that haunts the streets of present day Baghdad seeking the meaning of life. As he witnesses the puzzling absurdities of war, the tiger encounters Americans and Iraqis who are searching for friendship, redemption, and a toilet seat made of gold."[1]


A tiger lives in the Baghdad Zoo. He tells the audience that most of the animals have fled to "freedom" because of the Iraq Invasion, only to be shot dead by soldiers. That night, United States soldiers come to guard the zoo. The tiger, driven by fear and hunger, bites off the hand of Tom, a soldier. Kev, another soldier, shoots the tiger, mortally wounding him. He dies slowly.

Kev finds himself haunted by the ghost of the tiger, who wanders about Baghdad. Due to an outburst while searching an Iraqi's home, Kev is sent to the hospital. Back in Baghdad with a prosthetic hand, Tom pays a visit to Kev less out of compassion for a broken-minded buddy than for a more practical purpose.

It is revealed that the gun Kev used to shoot the tiger was taken from the palace of the late Uday Hussein. Tom wants the gun back so he can start a new life in the United States by selling not only the gold-plated gun, but a solid gold toilet seat. During the exchange, however, the gun falls into the hands of Uday's former gardener, Musa, who is also working as a translator for the soldiers. He is visited repeatedly by Uday's ghost.

The rest of the show involves the living characters interacting with the dead ones as the war happens around them.[2][3][4]


The play debuted at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Culver City, California, directed by Moisés Kaufman.[5] It ran from May 10, 2009, to June 7, 2009.[5] The creative team included sets by Derek McLane, costumes by David Zinn, and lighting by David Lander.[5][6] Another production ran at the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles from April 14, 2010, to May 30, 2010.[7] Kevin Tighe starred as the Tiger.[8]

A Broadway production opened at the Richard Rodgers Theatre on March 31, 2011, following previews from March 11. The show played a "strictly limited" engagement until July 3, 2011.[9] Again directed by Kaufman, the Broadway cast featured Robin Williams in the title role, with Glenn Davis as Tom, Brad Fleischer as Kev, Hrach Titizian as Uday, Sheila Vand as Hadia, Necar Zadegan as Leper, and Arian Moayed as Musa.[10] Robyn Goodman, Kevin McCollum, and Jeffrey Seller produced this production along with the Center Theatre Group.[11][12] The New York Times estimated that Bengal Tiger was expected to cost at least $3 million.[13]

Bengal Tiger had its southeast regional premiere at Carolina Actors Studio Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina on October 11, 2012.[14] In San Francisco the play premiered at San Francisco Playhouse in October 2013 where it received raving reviews.[15]

Awards and nominations

Award Outcome
2008 NEA Awards[16]
Outstanding New American Play Won
2010 Pulitzer Prize[17]
Pulitzer Prize for Drama Nominated
2011 Drama League Awards[18][19]
Distinguished Production of a Play Nominated
Distinguished Performance: Arian Moayed Nominated
Distinguished Performance: Robin Williams Nominated
2011 Outer Critics Circle Awards[20][21]
Outstanding New Broadway Play Nominated
Outstanding Set Design: Derek McLane Nominated
Outstanding Lighting Design: David Lander Nominated
2011 Easter Bonnet Competition[22]
Outstanding Bonnet Design Won
2011 Drama Desk Awards[23]
Outstanding Play Nominated
Outstanding Director of a Play: Moisés Kaufman Nominated
Outstanding Music in a Play: Kathryn Bostic Nominated
Outstanding Set Design in a Play: Derek McLane Nominated
Outstanding Lighting Design in a Play: David Lander Won
Outstanding Sound Design of a Play: Acme Sound Partners and Cricket S. Myers Won
2011 Tony Awards[24]
Best Performance by an Actor in a Featured Role in a Play: Arian Moayed Nominated
Best Lighting Design of a Play: David Lander Nominated
Best Sound Design of a Play: Acme Sound Partners and Cricket S. Myers Nominated
2011 Audience Choice Awards[25][26]
Favorite Play Nominated
Favorite Actor in a Play: Robin Williams Won


In reviewing the Los Angeles production, Charles Isherwood in The New York Times wrote that the Tiger "isn’t given any silly costuming, thank heavens, but simply wears tattered clothes" and saying that the show is "boldly imagined" and a "worthy finalist for the recent Pulitzer Prize".[3]

The Broadway production received mixed to positive reviews. The Los Angeles Times called Bengal Tiger "the most original drama written about the Iraq War", but said, "Without an actor of Williams' marquee draw, 'Bengal Tiger' would likely not have made it to Broadway. Frankly, I'm a little surprised that it has . . . But I'm glad that it has found a home in the commercial theater district not only because the work will challenge mainstream theatergoers but because I think it will leave the more sensitive among them profoundly moved."[27]

The Chicago Tribune praised the piece itself, but mentioned that Williams' performance "seems to miss much of the amoral ferocity of the beast (a tiger can be depressed or antic, but he is still a tiger). And a bigger problem yet is that Williams' Tiger is, as things go, not so much the protagonist as a sardonic observer of Baghdad ironies."[28]


  1. ^ "Robin Williams To Broadway In 'Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo'"
  2. ^ Lacher, Irene. "Arian Moayed aims to show the world the true face of Middle Easterners" Los Angeles Times, May 29, 2009.
  3. ^ a b Isherwood, Charles. "In the Iraq War, People Acting Like Animals, and Vice Versa". The New York Times. May 15, 2010.
  4. ^ "Review: 'Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo' at the Kirk Douglas Theatre", Stage, Los Angeles Times, May 18, 2009.
  5. ^ a b c "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo", May 10 - June 7, 2009, Kirk Douglas Theatre, Los Angeles, Center Theatre Group.
  6. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Pulitzer Finalist Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo Plays New Run in L.A. Starting April 14", 14 Apr 2010.
  7. ^ "Photo Flash: Mark Taper Forum Presents 'Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo'"., April 12, 2010.
  8. ^ Julian, Steve. "'Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo' at the Mark Taper Forum". Southern California Public Radio. April 23, 2010.
  9. ^ "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo", Richard Rodgers Theatre.
  10. ^ Jones, Kenneth.Robin Williams Is a Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Opening on Broadway March 31", March 31, 2011
  11. ^ [1] ibdb listing
  12. ^ Blank, Matthew. Meet the Press"Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo"PHOTO CALL: Robin Williams and Cast of, February 16, 2011.
  13. ^ Healy, Patrick. "Star Power Meets War’s Firepower" The New York Times, March 24, 2011
  14. ^ Perry Tannenbaum, “Theater review: CAST's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo”, Creative Loafing Charlotte, October 18, 2012
  15. ^ "San Francisco Theatre". Retrieved 2014-05-14. 
  16. ^ Itzkoff, David. "N.E.A. Gives Grants to Seven Productions". The New York Times.
  17. ^ "Robin Williams to Roar on Broadway in Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo"., october 18, 2010.
  18. ^ "Book of Mormon, Priscilla, Sister Act, War Horse, Good People and More Are Drama League Nominees",, April 25, 2011.
  19. ^
  20. ^ Gans, Andrew."Outer Critics Circle Nominees Include 'Sister Act', 'Anything Goes', 'Book of Mormon' ", April 26, 2011
  21. ^
  22. ^ "Wicked Tour Boosts 2011 Easter Bonnet to Near-Record $3.7 Million; La Cage and Bengal Tiger Are Winners". Retrieved 26 April 2011. 
  23. ^ Gans, Andrew."56th Annual Drama Desk Nominations Announced; Book of Mormon Scores 12 Nominations", April 29, 2011
  24. ^ "Who's Nominated",
  25. ^ "Chosen By You! 2011 Audience Choice Award Nominations Announced",, May 5, 2011.
  26. ^
  27. ^ "Theater Review: 'Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo' on Broadway",, March 31, 2011.
  28. ^ "Broadway Review Roundup",, March 31, 2011.

External links

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