In 1994, when she ventured into the tough streets of Brooklyn, camera in hand, Regina Monfort did not realize she was beginning a nine-year odyssey into the intimate lives of the kids bound to the streets. When she concluded the project, the kids were grown or lost, though all were changed, including her. But her […]
The play I saw was performed by a handful of very talented students, whose passion for their art showed in their performance. This powerfully moving adaptation of the 2009 play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo by Rajiv Joseph is brought to an intimate venue at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center with seating for about 65 people. The actors intense emotions were up close and personally felt. Arriving ten minutes after the play had begun I was only able to hear the characters play out an extremely intense first scene. Fear was heard in the voices that rose and fell with such intensity I almost forgot I was standing at the door of a play; the gun shots wrung out clearly echoing through the hall as the usher gave me an “it’s just a play” look . We were allowed to enter as the next scene was being set up, quickly taking our seats as to not miss another moment; I was hooked and intrigued to find out what laid ahead.
The actors successfully portrayed the lives of those living through the 2003 US lead Iraqi Freedom operation bringing to point the ties that bind the lives of three main characters. Ahsan Ali brought to life Musa, a soft-spoken gardener forced to work for the ruthless Husain family. He portrays a tortured mind attempting to find his place in a world that has no place for him. Obligated to work for the military as a translator he meets Kev, a young solider attempting to be what others expect him to be, but never quite getting it right. This character is skillfully played by Cecil Pugh, show casing Kev’s need to be accepted by his peers and willingness to go all out, even after death for those he considers a friend. Derick Locus portrayal of the Bengal Tiger was distinguished. The tiger seemingly fighting his own battles, being forced into a docile life at a zoo guarded by armed soldiers while attempting to understand his own place in a world never meant for him. His monologue in the last scene brought tears to my eyes. With despair, anger and fear in his voice he spoke for all those living and dead.
The supporting cast was just as notable; David Hunter played Uday with such charisma one could almost forget he was the bad guy, brining humor to in other wise morbid situation. As in the scene when he haunts Musa and mocks him by speaking to his dead brother’s head that he carries around with him in a bag. Barbara Kanellakooulos’s depiction of Hadia the innocent happily naïve sister of Musa was heartwarming. Showing her range she also played an Iraqi teenager in a shocking scene that had her playing an under paid prostitute left with no recourse after the destruction that war left behind. Dionte Cid plays a self-involved Tom, the solider responsible for linking the lives of all involved. All searching for a savior, a meaning to life or death, an answer to the biggest question “is there a God?” This play brings the characters down into despair on their knees, begs of them to find their own answers in a very real here and now society although written over 10 years ago I found myself stepping into the shoes of Musa and his sister. She so bravely faces life with a smile, as he so apprehensively tip toes around the mines that are reality, becoming all that was never meant for them. The callous manner of Tom and Uday alike for those they used and disregarded in life followed them into death and beyond. Kev forever haunted by his quick trigger finger, and the Tiger he killed for the sake of another’s life. The Tiger forsaken in life by humans and in death by God, as his instinct did not die with his body. Searching for meaning to life after death this and finding nothing but more questions. The dissipation of Musa’s religion, of his belief in right and wrong as the story unravels is moving and in the last scene the interaction between Tiger and Musa who he believes is God answering his prayers is profound mostly in Musa’s rejection of God and the Tigers perpetual need to believe in that same God.
The set was minimal in its scenery and props. For me it brought a sense of the skeletal structure left behind after the bombings and occupation. It gave the audience opportunity to use their imagination to get a feel for the broken down shambles war leaves behind. The sound effects allotted for the place and time, as well as the costumes. Direction was a key factor when changing scenery, the lighting accentuated key moments. The professionalism put into this production in conjunction with the commendable acting by all the cast brought on a thunderous round of applause at the end. A night out away from TV, cell phones and laptops, being able to watch such a diverse array of performers up close and personal was enlightening. I would have like to watch a repeat performance, sadly with limited engagement running only from 11/5/14-11/15/14 I was unable to catch the last show.