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« Art Around Town Critic's Choice: Completeness at Theater Wit »

Review Fri Feb 22 2013

Bengal Tiger: The Quest for the Golden Toilet Seat

9849, Troy West.jpg

I went into Lookingglass Theater Company's production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo with high hopes. After all, I've heard great things about the company and Bengal Tiger was a 2011 Tony Award Recipient. I figured they don't just give those awards away to anyone. Robin Williams was also in the play at one point, and he's a pretty darn good actor. However, I came out of the production thoroughly offended and with a sour taste in my mouth.

It wasn't the acting, the lighting, or the set that did it for me -- all of these were incredible. It was the script itself. Maybe I missed something somewhere along the way.

I understand that theater has many purposes, some of which are expressing things that aren't so popular or attempting to reach a kind of conclusion about uncomfortable topics. Still, there is a certain amount of care that should come along with pushing the boundaries, and this play did not show it.

The issues brought up by the play do need to be discussed, but there's a thin line between raising questions and drawing conclusions. The latter is presumptuous, especially in a situation as delicate as the one in the show.

So what was it about the play that has me all riled up? It begins with the way both sides of the conflict are painted. As you may have guessed from the title, the play begins with a tiger in a cage at the Baghdad Zoo. The tiger is shot and killed after biting an American soldier. He dies, but finds himself somewhere between the land of the living and... somewhere else. From this first scene, the play makes a sweeping generalization that all American soldiers are unfeeling, sex-obsessed, stupid rednecks with one desire in life -- riches -- at any cost.

It doesn't get much better from there. As soon as the Iraqi translator and soldiers are introduced, we're made to understand that every Iraqi person is definitely a terrorist, out to kill for Allah. I hardly find this fair. In a world where stereotyping is already a problem, it seems a play would seek to create an understanding about the issue instead of furthering its influence.

They also drag Saddam Hussein's son into the mix. His ghost has a sick sense of humor and likes to make light of issues like rape and murder. Did I mention the whole conflict in the play begins because both sides are trying to get hold of a golden gun and a golden toilet seat?

This is only my opinion after all, and some may interpret the play differently. If you'd like to take a swing at it, tickets are available starting at $30. The play is showing through March 17 at the Lookingglass Theater, located inside Chicago's historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave.

browngal / February 22, 2013 3:13 PM

you should stick with the feel good stuff. does it occur to you that this play may be a satire? or is that too much for your delicate closeted midwestern standards?

Ashley / February 22, 2013 5:06 PM

I think the issues described make the production seem not only biased, but also fettered with untruths and presented in a manner meant to offend. Offensive material is not new to any of us, however directly targeting racial/religious groups is a huge struggle in our nation and across the globe. I don't see how putting these issues in production form (satire or not)shows a way for resolution.

Andy G / February 22, 2013 6:31 PM

So browngal, do you really think the midwest is filled with close minded people and ruled by unwavering rigid social standards? As someone who grew up in the rural south, I will tell you that the Midwest is far from closed minded. I grew up gay in a community that thought they could "pray away the gay." I then moved to Chicago at the age of 18. The Midwest is far from close minded; it is actually the opposite. Aside from bashing where Sarah is from do you have any SUBSTANTIVE remarks about her review? Yes, the play may have been a satire, and I'm sure the reviewer was well aware of the context of the play, but even satire can only go so far before it becomes offensive. Even more importantly you, Sarah, myself, and everyone else is entitled to their own opinion. No need to get rude about it. Also, proper grammar and punctuation would go a long way in making your comment seem less inflammatory and help to make yourself appear to be more than a disgruntled and seemingly close minded reader. But that's just my opinion.

Sam / February 23, 2013 10:48 AM

Sarah - of course you are entitled to your opinion, but I think you glossed over the more substantial issues this play delves into and you seemed to take a very narrow minded point of view of this piece. This play is far more deeper than just the surface of the characters you wrote about in your review. It's not all black and white as you make it come off. The issues of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Cultural Identity, Nature of Man vs Beast, the existence of God all come into play here and Joseph does a masterful job of weaving all of this issues into the journey of his characters. And you characterize the Iraqis as coming off as terrorists - how can you possibly see this in this play? The very fact that the translator fights against the stereotype and says he is not a terrorist, but a gardener puts you interpretation as quite dumbfounding. I think this play doesn't get a very fair review from you and I would encourage anyone reading this to go and see it. It's one of the most unique pieces of theatre I witnessed when I saw it on Broadway and I'm glad to see Chicago is getting a chance to witness it as well.

Michael Caplan / February 23, 2013 4:29 PM

I love Lookingglass and I agree that the acting, staging and the sets were wonderful, as always. LIke you, I felt that the script felt soaked in stereotypes, with no spark to make anyone feel real or interesting. I just didn't care about any of the characters or where the story was going.

Susan / February 23, 2013 6:41 PM

Saw Bengal Tiger last week. Absolutely loved it. Terrific play, acting and direction. The characters were very engaging to watch and we've been talking about the it ever since seeing it. Highly recommend it!

Dave / February 24, 2013 6:40 PM

I sure do hate theatre that forces me to think outside my comfort zone.

I'd be interested to know at what point you were so turned off by the production that you chose to draw rash generalizations about the motives of the playwright and splay them on the Internet for all to see, ultimately resulting in one of the most thoughtless reviews I've read about any theatre in Chicago.

Dan / February 27, 2013 10:03 AM

This has got to be the most idiotic review I've ever read. Bengal Tiger was so much more than this review. It was hands down just AWESOME. Everyone should run to Lookingglass and catch this show.

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