Bengal Tiger Discovery Guide

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  • 8/11/2019 Bengal Tiger Discovery Guide


    Welcome toRajiv Joseph'sBengal Tiger at theBaghdad Zoo.

    Discovery Guide

    FFresh from two critically acclaimedproductions at Center Theatre Group's KirkDouglas Theatre and Mark Taper Forum,Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoohas arrivedat Broadway's Richard Rodgers Theatrestarring Academy Awardwinner RobinWilliams. This remarkable play throws twohomesick soldiers, a tormented Iraqi and abrooding tiger together and dares you notto look away from its honest and hauntinglytheatrical depiction of the aftermath of war.

    Before we tell you more, take a moment andimagine what might happen when the abovecharacters meet. How will they interact?How will they communicate? Can you picturethe city of Baghdad through the eyes of anAmerican soldier serving in Iraq? Can youimagine the soldiers through the eyes of theirIraqi translator? What is the experience ofwar for a tiger caged in a zoo, 10 thousandmiles from its original home?Turn the page to explore Bengal Tiger at theBaghdad Zoo: the setting, subject matterand theatrical style. Think about Iraqitslocation, history and language. Read an

    interview with playwright Rajiv Josephdiscussing the craft of playwriting and hisinspiration for writing Bengal Tiger at theBaghdad Zoo.

    Reflect on violence onstage and in life. Whyuse theatre to explore the aftermath ofviolence? Why use theatre to explore war? Howmight theatre and imagination help us betterunderstand incomprehensible real life events?Theatre raises questions and challengesaudience members to discover theirown answers. See what questions thisinformation raises for you and whatquestions and answers the performance

    provides. Thank you so much for joining usfor Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. We lookforward to seeing you at the theatre!

    It makes you wonder whats going onon the other side of the cage.Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

  • 8/11/2019 Bengal Tiger Discovery Guide


    WriterJulie Marie Myatt

    Associate Directorof EducationDebra Piver

    Teaching Artists inResidenceLynn ClarkLeslie IshiiMarcos NajeraOmar Ricks

    ProofreaderMandy Ratliff

    Graphic DesignerHaruka Hayakawa

    BengalTiger atthe BaghdadZoo 1

    Discovery Guide

    Robin Williams.

    "I'm not the kind of person who does this.It is not who I am." BengalTigerat the BaghdadZoo

    Discovery Guide3



    According to the Bibles Book of Genesis, the Garden of Edenwas located near four rivers, the Pishon, Gihon, Tigris andEuphrates in ancient Mesopotamia, which is modern Iraq.In the story of Genesis, God instructs Adam to tend to thisbeautiful garden, but commands him not to eat from the Tree ofKnowledge of Good and Evil. A serpent in the tree asks Eve whyshe avoids eating the fruit, and Eve explains Gods command,and that she will die if she eats it. The serpent persuades her toeat a piece of fruit, telling Eve that it will make her and Adamlike gods, knowing good and evil. Eve eats the fruit, and whenAdam realizes what shes done, he too eats the fruit so that hecan remain with Eve. God casts them both out of the Garden.This story is often used as metaphor for the consequences ofknowledge, good and evil.

    Why do you think that the playwright, Rajiv Joseph,includes references to gardens throughout his play? Whatis he saying about knowledge and good and evil?

    The character Musa is proud of being a gardener because heis able to use his hands to create beauty and life rather thanviolence. Much of that beauty is destroyed during the play.

    Do you think beauty can exist in the midst of a violentworld? Can beauty outlast violence? Where do you seebeauty in your own world? Why is it important to continueto make or appreciate beauty in brutal times?


    Topiary is the art of trimming living trees and shrubs intodecorative shapes. The best trees and shrubs for topiary artare box trees: cypress and yew, rosemary shrubs, holly andbox honey-suckle. Topiary was practiced as early as the 1stcentury AD. The art is thought to have evolved from the naturaland necessary trimming, pruning, and training of trees. Theearliest topiary was probably the simple shaping of dwarf-boxedging and the development of cones, columns, and spiresof box trees to accent a garden scene. This architectural usegave way to more elaborate designs; shrubs were shaped intoships, huntsmen, and animals. In the 18th century, topiary wascalled the art of the tree barber, but its practitioners call it theart of the tree mason and leafage sculptor. Recently, topiary ismaking a comeback in Baghdad.


    A tiger who speaks and contemplates the existence ofGod. A soldier who dies and returns a more intelligentghost. The ghost of a tyrant's son who appearscarrying his brother's head. In the world of this play,life and death intermingle in a state of constant unrest.Characters are haunted: by each other, by their pastactions and by the violence of their present.

    Rajiv Josephs play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

    is based on real-life events, but he has used artisticlicense to spin a tale full of surreal elements. Whydo you think the playwright chose a heightened,non-realistic style to tell the story? Does thetheatricality give you a different perspective thanif the story had been told in a more realistic way?How does it impact your experience as an audiencemember?


    In this play, the characters find themselves in cruel andviolent situations. Characters are tortured and killed,people lose their limbs, their minds and their lives.The play explores what happens to people, places andanimals in the aftermath of violence.

    What makes one capable of violence? Is it innate,or is it learned? Is it different when an animalcommits a violent act than when a human does?What is the difference?

    What is the value of watching violence onstage?How might it help us reflect upon the violence inour own world? How does witnessing the violencein the play and its impact on the charactersdeepen your understanding of the consequencesof violence and of war?

    Search ForAnswers

    More questions are posed than answers given in thisplay. Where am I? Why am I still here? Why amI not gone? What happens now, God? Charactersare searching for meaning, trying to understandthemselves, their actions and the violent wo rld they findthemselves in.

    How do humans try to make meaning of sufferingand violence? Why do we ask questions andsearch for answers? What is the power of askingquestions in the midst of violence? What happenswhen we cannot find an answer or when it seemslike there are no answers?

    AA darkly comic and surreal story about Tom and Kev, twomisguided young soldiers assigned to guard the Baghdad Zooduring the early days of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq.When Tom taunts the sole surviving Bengal Tiger with food, theTiger bites off his hand, prompting Kev to shoot the animal.The gun he uses to kill the Tiger is not just any gun; its a goldgun that Tom stole from Uday Hussein, son of dictator SaddamHussein, during a raid. The ghost of the Tiger starts to wanderthe streets of war-torn Baghdad, caught in an existential haze.He begins to haunt his killer, Kev, until Kev breaks down andtakes his life by severing his own hand. Like the Tiger, Kevbecomes a ghost and proceeds to haunt his buddy Tom.Meanwhile, Musa, once Uday Husseins gardener, is trying toadapt to his new job as interpreter for the occupying Americanforces. Musa is haunted by the ghost of Uday Hussein, theman who raped and killed his little sister, Hadia. The gold gunbinds the men and the Tiger to Baghdads brutal past andits confused, violent present. The city has transitioned fromdictatorship to American occupation, the young soldiers havetransformed from kids to killers, the interpreter has turnedfrom gardener to traitor in his own land. No one can makesense of the inhuman acts surrounding him. Ghosts fill thestreets of Baghdad, looking for answers in the midst of war,and the Bengal Tiger joins American and Iraqi voices in asking,

    Why am I here?

    IIt is estimated that since the second Gulf War began in 2003, more than 2 0,000Iraqis have worked as interpreters for the American military and private securityfirms. According to the Department of Defense, some 5,490 Iraqis were employedas interpreters. Their job is to create the important bridge between the militaryand the local community, paving the way for better communication in thehopes of a peaceful exchange between the two cultures. While an interpreter jobprovides new opportunities for Iraqis, the risks can often outweigh the gains ofemployment. Working for the United States government is viewed by the majorityof the Iraqi people as working fo r the occupiers, and interpreters are often viewedas traitors. Many interpreters find their lives threatened. Recently across theUnited States, veterans of the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan are taking upthe cause of their interpreters. Veterans are creating a network of aid groups andbecoming personally involved as advocates in the immigration process, a processthat can often take more than a year to complete. At the beginning of 2008, nearly2,000 interpreters in Iraq and Afghanistan had applied to the State Departmentfor a Special Immigrant Visa, which would allow them to enter the United States.This visa was created specifically for those Iraqi and Afghan nationals whose liveshave been threatened because of their work for United States forces. Since thespecial visa for interpreters was created, 1,735 of these cases have been approved,though it is unclear how many have actually come to the United States.

    In the play, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo , the character of Musa is aninterpreter who is trying to learn American slang so that he can better understandwhat the soldiers are saying around him, both for his own safety and that of hisfellow Iraqis. Musa is caught between the two cultures, trying to use language asa bridge to understanding and clarity in an atmosphere of mistrust and violence.

    Have you ever had to be an interpreter in your life?

    What was it like to be the person between two languages, two cultures?

    How might our understanding of Iraq and other Arab countries deepen ifwe spoke their language? How can language be a bridge to bring differentgroups closer together?

    Have you ever managed to communicate with someone who did notspeak the same language as you? How did you make your thoughtsand feelings known?

    What happens now,God? What happensnow that Im intelligentand aware and sensitiveto the universe?BengalTigerat the BaghdadZoo

    My hands belong to me. And myhands have their own memory.And when I put them on a plant,they create something. They willcreatesomething.

    BengalTigerat the BaghdadZoo

  • 8/11/2019 Bengal Tiger Discovery Guide


    AssumptionsIraq. It is a country that has been in the news for manyyears now. It is a country that thousands of Americansoldiers have been deployed to. And yet it remains a placethat many people in the United States know very littleabout. Why do you think that is?

    Take a moment and picture Iraq. What do you knowabout this country? Where is it located? What imagescome to mind when you think of Iraq? Are yourimages primarily of war? Can you picture Iraq outsidethe realm of war or violence? Can you picture Iraqoutside of a relationship to the Unit ed States?

    What do you think it is like to be a teenager in Iraq?What do you think life is like for women in Iraq? Canyou imagine Iraqi food, music, language, sports orschools?

    What dont you know about Iraq? Is there somethingyou are curious to know about this country and itspeople? If you could ask one question to one personin Iraqwho would you want to talk to and what

    would you want to know?

    What assumptions have you heard about Iraq and itspeople? Do you share these ideas? Do you think it iseasier to go to war with a country that we know verylittle about? What might happen if Americans knewmore about Iraqs culture and people?


    War is a grave affair of state; it is a place of life and death,a road to survival and extinction, a matter to be ponderedcarefully.Sun Tzu The Art of War

    Why do you think America went to war with Iraq? Doyou think that the Unite d States has a responsibilityto Iraq and its people? What is that responsibility?

    Do you know anyone in the military who has fought inIraq or another war? What, if anything, were they ableto share about their experience with you?

    How is Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo different fromother images you have seen or stories you have heardabout the war in Iraq? How is the play similar to thoseimages and stories?













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    : Young Iraqis are accustomed to seeing mili tary vehicles on the street, photo

    from Iraq: Enchantment of the World by Byron Augustin and Jake Kubena.: Brad Fleischer and Glenn Davis in the world premiere of BengalTiger at the Baghdad Zooat the Kirk Douglas Theatre. .

    American soldiers on patrolin Iraq, photo from Iraq:Enchantment of the World byByron Augustin and Jake Kubena.

    When youre thisfar from home,you know yourenever getting back.

    Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo








    Salah ad Din




    Al Basrah

    Dhi Qar


    Al Muthanna


    An Najaf

    Al Anbar





    At Tamin


    BengalMuch of Bengal is often referred today as West Bengal, astate of India located in the northeastern part of the country.Forests occupy more than one-tenth of the total land areaof the state, and t he region as a whole has a rich and variedplant life. The forests are inhabited by tigers, panthers,elephants, wild cattle, and rhinoceroses, as well as by other

    animals of the Indian plain.

    Far From HomeThe characters of Kev and Tom are American soldiers serving in Iraq.The Tiger is from Bengal and was captured and brought to the BaghdadZoo. These characters are far from their homes during this play.

    Have you ever been a stranger in a strange land?

    What do you remember most about being far from home? Howdid that experience change you?

    IraqIraq is a country rich in ancient history. It is believed to be the home ofthe Garden of Eden. It was Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, wherewriting, mathematics and the worlds legal system began. About the sizeof California, Iraq is a triangle of mountains, desert, and a fertile river valley,bounded on the east by Iran, on the north by Turkey, on the west by Syria andJordan, and on the south by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. It sits between tworivers, the Tigris an...


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