Monday 10 July 2017

#musicmonday: Welcome to the Black Parade | My Chemical Romance + A Bengal Tiger review

He said, "Son when you grow up,
Would you be the savior of the broken,
The beaten and the damned?"
He said "Will you defeat them,
Your demons, and all the non-believers,
The plans that they have made?"
"Because one day I'll leave you,
A phantom to lead you in the summer,
To join The Black Parade."

Brought to you by Chris Preslar's unwitting ability to trigger nostalgia (or in other words, the closing song for Bengal Tiger).


with the cast of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
L - R: Iz Sulaini (Tom), Phraveen Arikiah (Musa), Christopher Preslar (Tiger), Putrina Mohamed Rafie (Iraqi Woman/Leper), Kabilan Murali Dharan (Iraqi Man/Uday), me, Farah Jasani (Iraqi teenager/Hadia)
Missing: Christopher Culver (Kev)
If I had to describe this show in one word, it would be intense.

Rajiv Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo sounds ridiculous at the start. Taking place during the 2003 Iraq Invasion, two soldiers guard a Bengal tiger at the Baghdad Zoo. When the tiger (Christopher Preslar) bites off Tom's (Iz Sulaini) hand, Kev (Christopher Culver) shoots it, pushing all three into a downward spiral. By the end of the show, Baghdad is filled with ghosts, all connected by a strange web of death to Musa (Phraveen Arikiah) and a golden gun.

The characters are brilliantly cast, filling their roles exceptionally well. Culver is believable as the dumb redneck Kev: the boy's itching for action - either a fight or sex, he doesn't care which. In later scenes, he manages the intense nature of his role with aplomb. As Tom, Iz comes across smarter, or at least more experienced, but is handicapped by his utter lack of empathy for and understanding of anyone not White American (doesn't this sound so familiar?) as well as his extreme anger (which may have been a tad overdone - he was angry all the time and it was grating). Kabilan does a brilliant mad/evil (evilly mad? madly evil?) Uday and Preslar is stellar, as usual, as the atheist Tiger (all tigers are atheist, apparently) stuck in an existential hell trying to figure out why he's a ghost on earth. But it was Phraveen who caught and held my attention: Musa, the poor, tormented gardener employed as a translator for the Americans, caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. You see him happy, almost care-free. You see him afraid. You see his soul wounded and tortured. You see him stumbling through life, almost zombie-like, frozen because he doesn't not know who he is anymore.

Copious swearing aside, the play asks hard-hitting questions. The Tiger flits in and out of the scenes, asking questions no one wants to voice: who is God, where is He, and what is the point of this life? He taunts, he teases, he rages; but he is insubstantial. Meaningless. A ghost. Musa's quandary is more physical; practical - why should he continue working with the Americans now he's found out they're not the good people he once thought they were? Also, what's going to happen to him once they're gone?

Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo leaves you with a heavily full heart. There is evil, and killing, sure. It's an extremely dark show. But there is also a man finding himself, finally coming to terms with who he has been and deciding for himself who he will be.

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