We wrapped up the final show of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo at the Bartell Theatre this past weekend – wow, what a run it was. 14 shows, spanning 4 weekends, and since I’ve always done comedies and tame little dramas in the past, being in a full-on dark, anguished tragedy was something new for me. Unfortunately, for the first time, I was acting in a protected, copywritten show by the Dramatis Play Service, so no filming was able to be done – unlike Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens in 2008, Talking out of School in 2011, 10 Thousand Moons from Here in 2013, and Two Diabetics, also in 2013. I’m still working on getting that video from Two Diabetics put up on the website, or at least a link to it – our director has scheduled an official viewing for it now, so we’re one step closer!

I thought that since no video will be had from Bengal Tiger, I’d give a little bit of perspective from my character, Kev. SPOILERS ABOUND BELOW! Don’t read anything further if you haven’t seen the show and think you might want to some day! But my memory is quite bad, and since I don’t have a video to rely on 10 years from now, I’m recording my thoughts on what it was like for Zach/Kev to be on stage for those two hours. Maybe you’ll find this interesting, maybe not – it’s more for my memories than anything else, but who knows – it could help or hinder some other actor who plays Kev in the future. I hope you injure yourself less than I did! (More on that to follow).

Watering and sweeping the sand back into place was a daily pre-show ritual.

Watering and sweeping the sand back into place was a daily pre-show ritual.


Our director decided that in order to give the audience a feeling for what the soldiers were going through, she’d have the theatre doors open 20 minutes before the show started – and Kev and Tommy, the two soldiers, would already be onstage, guarding the zoo with the tiger in it. So Charlie and John and I (Tommy and the Tiger, respectively) had to make sure we were ready before everyone else was and all warmed up, because we were about to spend 20 minutes pacing around the stage! At least Charlie and myself could make small talk and act like bored soldiers at a post – poor John in his 12×12 foot square box literally just walked in circles, pacing like a tiger would. He told me he kept himself sane by saying “Yep…there’s a wall…another wall…okay, another wall…alright…” as he wandered.

Tommy, as the more stoic soldier compared with Kev, wandered around the sandy stage a lot less than I did – we had decided that the house music playing before the show would be the music playing through Kev’s headphones (I had a pair of Samsung headphones from a smartphone, a little bit of an anachronism, but hopefully no one realized that headphones with side buttons on them like that didn’t exist in 2003, when the play takes place – it takes a pretty big nerd to see that). I didn’t have an MP3 player in my pocket – the headphones just ended wadded up in my uniform pocket – but I pantomimed changing volumes and bobbing my head to the music that “only” I could hear. Tommy, of course, didn’t react to the loud music playing through the speakers at all. Heh, I don’t think that I, as Zach, could ever do that – ever since I can remember I always unconsciously bob my head or tap my foot to music. It would have been hard for me to pretend it wasn’t there! One of the songs had a more “ethnic” sound (the full length “Ariels” by System of a Down, which I hadn’t heard before) with drumbeats and whatnot in it, and to cement Kev’s personality as kind of an uncultured moron, I pulled a headphone out of one ear, grunted at it and said “what’s this fuckin’ hadji music, Jesus Christ.” The other songs were more Kev’s “style” – Smashing Pumpkins, Incubus, Rancid, Offspring, etc.

Tommy and Kev teased the tiger a bit, tossing him bits of slim jim, rattling the cage bars a bit, or just staring at him. John, didn’t want to spoil the Tiger’s opening lines to the show yet, so he didn’t say anything as the tiger, he’d just scowl back and continue pacing, or sometimes collapse in the corner and stare bitterly out at the audience. I know maybe you think you’ve seen “happy” tigers at the zoo, but imagine a zoo that was half bombed-out and the animals hadn’t been fed properly in months – yeah, he was a pissed-off tiger.

Act 1, Scene 1

Charlie starts the actual show by ripping the headphones out of my ears (believably hard, too!) when he sees Katie, our Stage Manager, dim the house lights. “Fuckin’ stand up and do your job!” he growls at me, and the Tiger starts his lines. I debated on how to play Kev here – I pictured him as a tough-guy wannabe from some hick town in the sticks who just wanted to be a soldier so that he could cause some damage somewhere. The lines support that in this act, more or less, but I also tried to give him a “little brother” style attitude towards Tommy – a little in awe of, and wanting to impress him. He’s the guy who’s seen action, has two amazing souvenirs from raiding the mansion of Saddam’s sons. Meanwhile, Kev is basically viewed as an idiot by everyone, and put on the lamest duty possible – zoo guard.

This was a hard scene to do for all three of us, because Tommy and Kev have to have a “normal” chat while the Tiger is addressing the audience at random intervals. If learning lines is hard for me regularly, it was even harder to do when remembering that a third party who isn’t in your conversation is going to jump in at random and say something to no one in particular! Also, we both had to remember that the Tiger is really hard to see for the audience, being in a cage that is blocked on 3 out of 4 sides, so John had to come all the way to the very front and practically stick his head out the bars to make sure that the entire theatre could see him – and Charlie and I had to make sure that we wouldn’t be blocking him as he gave his lines.

Finally at the end of the act, when the Tiger attacks Tommy and bites his hand off, Charlie dragged to the ground and I run over to him, pantomime shooting the Tiger in the side four times with the golden P99 (a beautiful actual gun that was modified to shoot blanks, but was at one point an actual weapon). I wish we could have used blanks, but I guess I’m also glad to have maintained what’s left of my hearing, so instead I just memorized the exact pulse of the gunfire that came over the speakers in the exact same timing, every night. Laura, our sound specialist, has her finger right over the button to start the 4-bang sequence, so I get to start things, but then after that first shot, I have to remember to simulate recoil at exactly the same intervals for the next three shots. Having never shot any pistol but a Glock, I don’t know precisely how powerful a P99 is, so hopefully no pistolophile panned the show because of Kev’s ridiculous interpretation of gunfire.

Act 1 Scene 2

I run out into the hallway, and strip off my body harness and helmet, and take the P99 out of the back of my pants and stick it in the bag that holds my “kevlar” body armor that I pre-placed offstage. I have maybe about 45 seconds to do all of this before I have to be back onstage with Musa for the next scene, and I drink as much water from a pre-placed water bottle also offstage as I can. Some days, if my buckles got stuck, I wouldn’t have time to drink anything – oh well!

Bringing my bag of gear, my harness, my helmet, and my rifle back onstage is a little tough; with it literally piled in my arms, I always worried I was going to drop something. Of course, I would have played along with that; probably just cursed a little or something and picked up and kept running onstage. Now came the first fun part – dressing on stage properly in front of everyone. In rehearsal I had managed to get the process of getting my gear on to within 30 seconds plus or minus the lines where I’m supposed to be finished, but of course I had to play like I was having trouble doing it, while actually having a bit of trouble doing it, while maintaining my conversation with Musa in a properly sarcastic asshole-like way.

The mini “fight scene” was always a bit tough for me to pull off in a believable fashion. Musa trembles with the gun, falls to his knees, and I “wrestle” it away from him, but I never thought it was hard enough for Kev to get away that he would really be panting and trembling with nerves and/or rage. So I just wore it on my face as best I could, even if my body language wasn’t communicating it, and then had to get my helmet on (struggling purposefully again) and complete the act. The day before the show opened, for our final rehearsal, when I yanked the P99 away from him, it actually jammed against some sort of nerve in my left palm, so badly that it swelled up and turned purple and yellow for week afterward. I toyed with wearing a protective glove for the show, but I was just more cautious for the run of the show…which probably affected how realistic I was able to make that grab! Sigh.

Act 1 Scene 3

Once again, mere seconds between getting off stage and having to go back out again. This time, I ripped the P99 out of the bag where I’d put it after wrestling it away from Musa, and stuck it back into my pants near my rump, where it had been at the end of Scene 1. The bag, thankfully, was left behind. But all this had to happen in about 20 seconds or so – usually I didn’t have time to grab any water. And hoo boy did I want water after doing this scene every night.

I come out with the nameless “Man,” played by Mohammad with a burlap bag over his head. That way no one can know he’s also Uday a couple scenes later! He can’t see anything, so I’m gently steering him to where he needs to stand, but at the same time roughly dragging him to where Kev will interrogate him. Then Victoria, playing the “Woman” runs in and starts shoving at me – another mini-fight scene we needed to work on in rehearsal for where she’d grab me and how I’d push back on her to prevent from being knocked over – see, she has to catch me by surprise as I’m leaning over Mohammad, otherwise it’s not effective to think she got the drop on a soldier who saw her come in, so she could probably very easily knock me over if she was actually trying to. I bring my rifle up in my arms, using it as a shield as I roar at Musa to get her away from me, and then the scene continues.

Lots of punching poor Mohammad in this scene, shoving him around. I always thought it was funny that the author of the play, Rajiv Joseph, wrote all the abuse in this scene onto him. The woman talks, Kev basically ignores her (although I made him growl at her and gesticulate with the rifle) but almost every time the man opens his mouth to shout something in Arabic, Kev smacks him or tells him to either speak English or shut up in general. Mohammad’s hands are actually bound behind his back here, so Casem, playing Musa, pulls him up back onto his knees every time I knock him over like a bowling pin.

Kev is beginning his descent into madness here, so I made my movements jerky and erratic as I scream at everyone to shut up and tell me what’s in the box. Sliding around on the sand on the ground (oh that sand…) I almost slipped several times as I trembled with rage. Finally, the Tiger comes onstage and I actually go mad, thinking I’m having a hallucination (maybe the ghosts are hallucinations, maybe not – Rajiv leaves it up to however we want to play it). I always asked friends and relatives after the show how they thought I did here – madness is a state of being, right? It’s not like playing happy, sad, or an emotion. It’s literally how you are, and as far as I know, I’ve never been insane so I can’t play it from experience, I just had to play to the symptoms I was seeing – nervousness and seeing a Tiger I thought I’d shot dead a few weeks ago in front of me, walking on his hind legs, staring at me. When I look at John, I try to image he actually is a tiger, and sometimes a shiver runs up my spine. You might have had a tiger look at you at the zoo before – that calm, powerful stare. Now imagine one that’s taller than you are (on his hind legs) just staring at you and making eye contact without looking away, measuring you in a human way…it actually is a pretty terrifying thought. Of course, as wonderful as John is, he actually doesn’t look anything like a tiger, so these mental shivers were usually fleeting.

I pull off all my gear, the stuff I painstakingly put on in the previous scene. And then many of my clothes. This one was hilarious to do in rehearsal – I remember getting my camo pants and saying “really? Marines don’t have a button and a zipper like normal jeans, they have 4 buttons in a row?!?” This seemed like the most hilariously inefficient thing for a fighting force which has to get ready as quickly as possible, right? And for the poor actors who have to play them, undressing rapidly and maniacally onstage! But I rationalized it as such – zippers could probably get damaged in sand and not work properly, buttons are simple and probably are cheaper to make in bulk (gotta pay the Zipper Corporation their royalties for using their product, right? hah). So as any community theatre actor knows – you make due!

In rehearsal, we had to do these 45 seconds over and over again, which meant getting undressed and redressed a half dozen times in a row until Suzan, my wonderful director, was satisfied – I don’t blame her, I got it eventually, and she pushed to me to get it! We don’t want the play to drag here, so I eventually ended up starting my undressing at least 4-5 lines before when the book called for by yanking my helmet off and unbuckling the harness. Then there was the belt. Oh sweet Jesus, that belt…once again, when I first used this in rehearsal I was like, “a tension belt? Not one with a pin and holes like 99% of other men’s belts out there?” Once again, it seemed countereffective to efficiency (okay Marines, you can hire me any day now if this is the stuff you actually use in deployment). That belt was always the cause of a hold up, if there was any. Keep in mind that my thumbs had nerve damage in them here (more on that later, again!) and undoing this belt involved yanking on two little pins on the top and bottom of this belt in order to release the tension. At least one show per weekend I just plain and simple could not get the belt undone, and had to drop my trousers as far as I could, instead of all the way to my kneepads as intended. There was lots of ad-libbing of lines here as I’d struggle with it, panting and grinning insanely at the Tiger, 8 feet away from me, doing my best to not break character and look like “an annoyed man futzing with a belt” instead of “insane Marine taking off uniform in a hurried fashion like he would have done a million times before,” which is what I was going for.

Finally the belt comes off, the trousers drop, revealing me in my double-layer of blue boxer briefs. Suzan and I discussed what I should wear for this scene – boxers with their big hole in them seemed too likely to give the audience more of a show than intended as I flopped around on the sand a couple moments later, and briefs would probably be too tight against me. Our costume guy frowned at me after the final dress rehearsal, as we were having the last notes on our performance. “You need two pairs of boxers,” he informed me dryly. “With one pair, people are still able to see way more of an outline then anyone probably wants.” Well fine then! Two pairs it was, and there was not a single problem with that for all 14 shows (I kept that part of the show hidden from Christine though, I wanted to hear her laugh when she came to the last show and I dropped trau right in front of her – and she did).

The trousers down, I re-level the gun at the Tiger, and Musa comes up and yanks it away from me, and I have my faceful of sand for the show (poor Charlie gets a faceful twice in every show, which led me to believe that he may have been the main cause of us having 2-3 entire buckets less of sand when we loaded it all up again at strike a couple days ago, since he was carrying it back to the dressing room on his face and washing it off). I’m moaning, clawing at my head and face here, and writhing as best as possible with my trousers around my knees here. Suzan asked me, (during one particularly difficult belt-rehearsal) whether I wanted to get rid of the undress entirely, but I opted to keep it – it really does hit home the fact of how fragile and helpless Kev is at this moment, moaning and whimpering in the dirt in front of the Iraqis he was screaming at just a few minutes earlier (wow, we’re still on that scene, aren’t we).

Finally, everyone else leaves, and Kev struggles to his feet (literally; I make sure to trip a few times over my trousers as I reach for my rifle). I’m staring the audience full in the face here, covered in sand, drooling and screaming and trembling, before finally collapsing onto my right side (rump outward) and ending the scene. I think I did every night a little different here; this part was literally a blur as I tried to get the gist of my lines, while still looking like I’m a raving lunatic who has never heard of the word “acting!” in his life.

Act 1 Scene 4

It’s a quick one, with the Tiger being the sole speaker, but I found myself wishing every show that I hadn’t dropped quite so my right hip every single night. In the final week, on Thursday’s show, I actually hit it so hard falling to the ground in the last seconds of the previous scene, that I pinched a nerve and am currently walking with a limp. But of course, on stage, besides a few twitches and sobbing noises right at the beginning, I try to hold perfectly still, with my left hand covering my left eye, so I can keep my eyes open and not dry my contacts out (it was dry enough on that stage without me exacerbating it!) and also not be blinded by the next scene change. Besides moving my hand or leg slightly if it’s really uncomfortable, that’s all the shifting I afforded myself, so I just did my best to not land it a terrible position at the end of the last act.

A couple minutes later, the scene ends, and I leap to my feet, pull my trousers back up, and vanish into the darkness at stage right.

Act 1 Scene 5

It was always a toss-up for me whether Scene 3 or Scene 5 was the hardest one for me in this show, and as you may have guessed, they’re both the ones Kev goes crazy in. I pull off my kneepads (the only “armor” I have left) and boots, and if I remembered, surreptitiously drink some water I snuck backstage. I’m not technically “offstage” here – I’m not behind a curtain and therefore people farthest stage right in the audience can see me quite clearly in the darkness, so I try not to break character any more than I have to. I pick up my boots and, trembling like a man with memories I don’t want to remember, make my way to the bed that’s been placed onstage for me.

At least I don’t have to remember any blocking in this scene! I’m 100% lying in bed, so I try to be as communicative as possible from my platform. Our prop bed (definitely would not have passed safety inspection from a bedframe manufacturer) held up quite admirably, considering the rocking and throwing myself about I did on it. Tommy and the Tiger are my wingmen for this scene, revolving around my bed to talk to me or accuse me. I liked Charlie’s addition of having Tommy grab my head and force me to look at his prosthetic hand, something Kev feebly fights against (you can already tell he’s a broken man, or just physically weak after a week spent in bed). This scene also has some fun “awkward pauses” that the characters have, so I played those for as long as I can without it causing the audience to wonder if I’d actually forgotten my lines.

In the climactic part where Kev tells Tommy the Tiger’s ghost is still in the room, once again, bravo to Charlie for how he did this. He lunges forward, hand on my chest, and slams me backward into the bed, and screams into my face that the tiger is dead. He scared me a bit sometime! Then, lying on my back, pinned down, I gesture dementedly at the Tiger, who is hovering right over me on the other side of the bed. He smiles and waves to Tommy, who can’t see him – the audience always laughed at that bit.

In the final couple of weeks, Charlie added a new action for Tommy – after I whimper that he’s my friend and I need him to help sort me out, he comes back, calmly and with a dead look in his eyes. Kev reacts hopefully to this, reaching out to any scrap of companionship he can (he never learns; Tommy has done this two or three times to him in the scene – treating him kindly then verbally abusing him) and then Tommy puts Kev in a visegrip hold around his neck with his hand, and grates into his ear that he will murder him. It caught me by surprise the first time he did this, so I played up feebly struggling and crying against his hold. I gotta hand it to Charlie – the scene might be about my death, but he really went above and beyond in adding some extra physical reactions we didn’t originally rehearse in order to keep things interesting.

Finally, it’s just the Tiger and Kev. This is where Kev really breaks down as the Tiger is talking nostalgically about his life, and I’m alternating between slamming my hands against my forehead or covering my ears while moaning “you’re dead, you’re dead, you’re not there,” – the downside to the latter action is that I have to make sure to keep uncovering my ears so I can make sure I don’t miss the end of his line and my cue to continue. This is where my voice really starts to go, too – on the two middle weeks we did the show, we had 4 shows, and by the time show #2 on saturday came around, I was really struggling at times, voice cracking and grating. I’ve never had good diaphragm/breath control, despite people trying to show me or teach me how to do it, so I just sucked it up and dealt with the croaking voice, and tried to drink a lot of tea.

I yank the shiv out from underneath the cushion and froth at the tiger that I will fucking kill him again, and hold the blade to my throat. I feel like Kev is, once again, all talk and no action, just like the smartass tough guy from the beginning of the show. He can’t even commit suicide; the blade drops from his throat and he’s left sobbing on the bed, staring at the blade. Then he looks up, towards stage right where Tommy exited, and down at the blade and to the left, towards the soliloquizing Tiger – and he begins to laugh, a quiet, disbelieving laugh. I really tried to tap into his rage, terror, and dementia here. He doesn’t have the bravery to kill himself, but maybe – just maybe – he can outsmart this ghost and only cut off his hand, because the Tiger doesn’t appear to Tommy after Tommy lost his hand. He doesn’t need to kill himself, just feed the Tiger his hand! So he laughs out joy that he’s found a loophole, while weeping in fear of the self mutilation he’s about to carry out.

Finally, Kev can’t take it anymore and he throws himself onto the bed to start cutting off his hand. Of course, we had to stage this so that the audience couldn’t see I wasn’t actually cutting off my hand (surprise!) so we determined that the only way we could do this was if I had my hands down below the back of the bed, back completely to the audience. I’m sawing away there, and every few seconds I make an anguished scream of pain or pantomime trying to literally break or crack all the bones in my wrist so that I can saw through the muscle and flesh around them. Kev isn’t actually trying to kill himself, he’s just trying to chop off his hand and in his dementia, doesn’t think about the massive blood loss and shock to the body that this causes…and then he dies while muttering to the tiger that he’ll get a new one, just like Tommy. He’ll be free of the Tiger at last, too! Then I slump over, and let my left hand with the shiv fall on the sand below the bed, while studiously keeping my “severed” right hand hidden.

How Ironic!

How Ironic!

Ha – the day before the show opened, the props manager got me a new shiv to use. In rehearsal we’d literally been using a piece of cardboard with tinfoil wrapped around it, but it was decided that something more realistic was needed. So someone got me an actual piece of blackened, almost iridescent metal…that turned out to be surprisingly sharp. I had been sawing at my wrist with tinfoil-wrapped cardboard for a few weeks, and on opening night I accidentally applied similar pressure with my new shiv, and actually scratched up my wrist a bit, and nicked my right thumb badly enough that blood was trickling off of it as I scuttled offstage. Of course everyone joked that I was taking “Method acting” a bit too seriously, and Katie made sure that the sharp shiv had all of its edges filed down into roundness before the next show. On the second to last show night, though, I finally cut through something besides my flesh – the charm bracelet that Darhiya had tied around my wrist back in India almost six months ago was finally worn through by the shiv, and came off. I had been told it was bad luck to remove it before it came off naturally, (Christine may have cheated by letting her hamster gnaw on hers!) but for the entire run of the show, I had been wearing it.

Act 1 Scene 6

The first time in the show I’m not onstage! Musa and Uday Hussein have the floor now, and I go back into the dressing room to collapse into a chair. When I looked at myself in the mirror after killing myself, I’m usually still covered in bits of sand from Scene 4, and I’m sweating and red faced from Scene 5. I usually go through at least one or two bottles of water here as I sit with my fellow actors and listen to the two Iraqis onstage through the close-circuit television. After their scene, it’s intermission, and I put my boots back on, reattach that damned belt, and wrap a bloodied strip of cloth around my right hand and wrist where Kev would have sliced through some, but not all, of his wrist. Unlike Tommy, who’s wearing a prosthetic hand made of a flesh-tone painted rubber glove with an ace bandage over it, poor Kev couldn’t even properly remove his hand. But Charlie told us the thing smelled just awful after being worn for two hours a night for a month, so I can’t say I envy him that.

Act 2 Scene 7

Another Tiger monologue scene. Originally I had been asked to come onstage with the Tiger before the intermission ended and hide in the wings off stage right again, but thankfully that was changed and I could rest a little bit more in the dressing room (usually chugging water).

Act 2 Scene 8

A big one for Charlie/Tommy. Now that Kev has died, he’s become a lot more mellow and therefore, not nearly as exhausting to portray. Tommy, on the other hand, is beginning his descent into crazytown and all of the stuttering and screaming that this necessitates. When I come onstage moments after he and the prostitute/Hadia (portrayed by my friend Aurelia), I play Kev as half in Tommy’s mind, and half as a real ghost person (what a ridiculous sentence). Kev’s first lines are “dear Tommy, how are you, I am fine” which makes it clear that Rajiv intended the character to be a shadow in Tommy’s mind, the letter that he got from Kev while he was on medical leave for his prosthetic hand. Especially considering how verbose and anguished Kev is later on in the show, it didn’t make any sense in mind that he’s an actual character interacting with Tommy here; he repeats the same asinine phrase three times in this scene alone. But then suddenly, it’s like he notices Tommy and then starts to talk to him about his new-found understanding of the world.

Memorizing the seven different wrist bones (four on the the proximal, three on the distal) was a bit challenging at first. I remember I screwed it up on the first night, but hopefully there weren’t too many medical professionals in the audience. It got to be second nature, though.

Then, I go back into the wings at stage right and hang out with John for about 8 minutes. It was a tight squeeze back there, about two feet by 4 feet for the two of us, and if we moved too much to either side we’d be seen by the audience through the gaping hole in the side of the Tiger’s cage from Scene 1. John would have his water (he spent a lot of time back there; he was barely ever offstage or in the green room) and his bloodied animal carcass (I’m not actually sure what the prop was, come to think of it), and we’d listen to the actors onstage, and to the audience’s reaction to them. Sometimes we’d have a laughing audience, or a gasping one, or quiet one (even with the moderately priced booze the Bartell Theatre offered!) During the part where the prostitute gives Tommy a handjob, sometimes I’d hear young-sounding laughter in the audience. Once I heard an older-sounding woman go “oh jeeeez.”

Then it’s back onstage for the second half of the scene. Charlie played this one a little differently every night – sometimes he’d be mostly angry, sometimes scared, sometimes sad. I tried to play Kev accordingly in his responses – it was his scene, in my opinion. Kev finally gets some funny lines here, I usually played him mostly wry and a bit bitter about being abandoned in the hospital, and bitter that he was stuck roaming the deserts of Iraq instead of being in heaven. In my mind, Kev is definitely religious, and he expected that when he would die, he’d get to heaven – he was a good all-American soldier, after all, why wouldn’t he? It’s kind of mirror of the first scene again, in a way – once again, it’s Tommy, Kev, and the Tiger all on stage together, except now Kev is the one who can interact with the two of them; Tommy can’t see the Tiger and the Tiger just ignores him.

Act 2 Scene 9

The Arabic language scene! The funny thing is that after 3 months of rehearsing, it really didn’t matter that I actually did speak the language (a little bit) before we all started doing this; Aurelia and Victoria did just fine with their Arabic to the point where it sounded completely legitimate to the average American audience member. I can’t speak for any Arabs in the audience, but I think they both did great.

I changed this scene up as the weeks of the show went on. When I first started, I made his prayer to Allah more conversational and questioning, but bit by bit he became more tortured and angry about being stuck here in limbo. Made it more interesting for the audience, I hope. When the Tiger comes onstage, I had to be careful to make sure my back was to him, so I could pantomime being surprised by his first lines. It’s a good little scene; the first time the two of us actually get a chance to talk. Kev is bitter; he views the Tiger as the cause of his death – driving him to insanity – but he’s already finding that things that happened to him while he was alive don’t really matter very much anymore, and he’s more concerned with getting God to talk to him about these questions and answers that are popping like bubbles into his brain. It made sense to me; if you find the entire wealth of knowledge of the universe open in front of you, something as minor as “why did you make me go crazy” don’t seem very important anymore.

Act 2 Scene 10

Tommy’s death scene with Musa pulling the trigger and leaving him bleeding and crying in the sand, and one of the hardest scenes for me to wrap my mind around at first. It always struck me as kind of pointless at first – Kev coming to his dying friend with the golden toilet seat he’d been searching for under his arm, and not really answering any of his questions and pleas to help him. Why does Kev behave that way? About a week into the show, I came up with the idea that Kev had been given a sign, by the “answers of the Universe” or whatever, that he knew that Tommy was going to die. It was his purpose for being here, to be with Tommy at the end. So he provides the translation to the old leper woman that Tommy needs to get some water, and to get the first aid kit, and to comfort him at the end, because just being with him is really all he can do. It was the only way I could make any sense out of Rajiv’s intentions with Kev’s lines in this scene, at least.

Victoria, our leper, enjoys some light reading before putting on her rotting-face makeup

Victoria, our leper, enjoys some light reading before putting on her rotting-face makeup

At first, I didn’t feel comfortable with the idea of “ghosts and living people touching each other” but Charlie went with it, and he grasped my arm pleadingly when I came onstage. Within a few shows though, despite my misgivings that this would be possible, I went with it, and as he died in the final moments of the scene, I would put my arm around him. He’d usually be soaking wet at this point, because he dumps the canteen of water the leper brings him all over his face and then faceplants in the sand trying to get back to the jeep with a bullet in his side.

Act 2 Scene 11

That’s it for me, though! Musa, Uday, the Tiger, and Hadia have their final scene together, but Tommy and Kev are no more, at least on stage. I’d like to say that Kev finally got to move onto an afterlife or something after comforting Tommy, but the fact that the Tiger is still in the last scene means that probably doesn’t bode well for there being a happy ending for any of our ghosts. We all agreed that it’s basically a play about Musa and the Tiger; as much as Tommy and Kev get to talk throughout the show, it seemed to me that their purpose is basically to interact with Musa and provide backstops for his own rage and grief. And Uday is definitely the darkly comic relief.

And then, we struck the set, packing up the sand into ~30 pails, unscrewed the ruins on stage left and the cage on stage right. I hear that the topiary that dominated center stage will be used in the Barty theatre awards this year. The gold toilet seat got to be my souvenir from the show, not Tommy’s (I think I’ll mount it on the not-oft used toilet in the basement – that gold spray paint will wear out if it gets sat on too frequently). We got to keep our dog tags – I discovered that the last name that Suzan made up for Kev is “Herschowitz.” Besides those few physical tokens, all we have left are some pictures and now, a blog post. Thanks for reading, I hope it wasn’t too boring, but like I said, it was more for me than anything else.

But if anyone reading this has ever played Kev before in a show of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (I figure it’s a small crowd; this isn’t like playing Giles in The Mousetrap; you could probably fill a small stadium with the number of men who’ve had that role), I’d love to hear your thoughts on what it was like for you!

Our prop Qusay head, and the real-life guy.

Our prop Qusay head, and the real-life guy.