Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

From left to right: Mitchell Butzner as Tom, Jeff Hess as the Tiger, and Nate Pereira as Kev rehearse a scene from “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.” The drama, directed by Ajai Tripathi, will have performances Saturday and Sunday in the Majestic Lab Theatre.

Photo by Ajai Tripathi

Ajai Tripathi says he was looking for a good, unique story to tell for his directorial debut with the Majestic Reader's Theatre. A play that he would be interested in seeing.

Tripathi chose "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" by Rajiv Joseph.

He said the well-written script is a supernatural drama with a lot of dark humor that is profane; at times, though, it's very poetic.

"This was the type of play that really grabbed me, because of its subject matter and intensity," Tripathi said.

The play, nominated for a 2010 Pulitzer Prize in drama, will have its first performance Saturday night, followed by two more performances Sunday in the Majestic Lab Theatre. Due to an increase in the number of sold-out plays, the Majestic Reader's Theatre has now expanded to include a Saturday performance.

The 2010 Broadway production also featured a critically praised turn by the late Robin Williams for his portrayal of the tiger.

The Majestic production features Jeff Hess as the tiger. The play is set at the Baghdad Zoo during the first days of the American invasion of Iraq.

The zoo and tiger are now being guarded by two U.S. soldiers, Tom (Mitchell Butzner) and Kev (Nate Pereira). While standing guard by the tiger's cage, Tom reveals to Kev a gold-layered gun he found during a raid at one of the Hussein family mansions that belonged to Saddam Hussein's son Uday (Steven Olson).

Tom foolishly puts his hand near the cage, and the hungry tiger bites his hand off. A panicked Kev grabs the golden gun and shoots the tiger.

For the rest of the play, the tiger's ghost haunts Kev, said Tripathi, an Oregon State University graduate who recently directed the OSU production of "Rhinoceros."

The other cast members are Meghan McCloskey and Srimanyu Ganapathineedi. Ganapathineedi and Pereira were also featured in Tripathi's production of "Rhinoceros."

Tripathi, who is tour manager of Portland's Milagro Theatre, said the cast for "Tiger" has been adept at dealing with the heavy material in the script.

"There's death and very extreme emotions, so the actors have been very open and brave to just dive into it," he said.

Tripathi said it was his intention to keep the play's staging simple, and focus on the actors delivering good performances.

For instance, there isn't supposed to be anything special about the tiger's appearance.

"The tiger is very sardonic and deadpan. Just a guy in a cage talking about the humans around him, so it works well for minimal staging," he said.

Tripathi said the play runs the gamut of emotions with more than one message.

"It's an invitation to think about what we are as living beings and how we go about treating each other and other living things," he said.

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