Robin Williams haunts Broadway in "Bengal Tiger"

Wed Mar 30, 2011 8:33am EDT
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By Christine Kearney

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Robin Williams made either a risky, or courageous, choice for his Broadway acting debut by depicting the ghost of a Bengal tiger slinking around the bloody streets of Baghdad trying to make sense of humans and war.

"Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" opens on Thursday and is risky because for years, most tales with the Iraq war as a backdrop have proven unpopular with U.S. audiences. But the actor and comedian believes the role is an obvious choice for him and the play is a worthy drama to challenge theater-goers.

"People say, 'why?' Because it's an extraordinary piece," he told Reuters. "I read it and went, 'This is worth doing.'"

As the curtain rises, Williams' tiger character stands upright in a cage, joking about the absurdities of life before being taunted by a U.S. soldier. The tiger bites off the man's hand and is then shot to death.

"To die in captivity in a Baghdad zoo, what a freakin' life," he muses to a laughing audience.

But the play, a Pulitzer Prize finalist last year, then turns toward the brutality of war, and the tiger's ghost takes to the streets of the war-torn city with surprising, acerbic reflections on the nature of animals, humanity and religion.

"Bengal Tiger" takes place in the early days of the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and key characters including U.S. soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter are haunted by acts they have committed and the gruesome realities of armed conflict.

In trying to explain "Bengal Tiger," the 59-year-old Williams recalled his off-Broadway -- or as he joked, "under Broadway" -- stage work in the Samuel Beckett play, "Waiting For Godot" in 1988.   Continued...

<p>Robin Williams during the 24th American Cinematheque Award benefit gala in Beverly Hills, March 27, 2010. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas</p>