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Broadway Review Roundup: BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO

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BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO, featuring Robin Williams, opened tonight, March 31, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre (226 W. 46 St.). The Oscar, Emmy and Grammy Award-winning actor Robin Williams will make his Broadway acting debut in BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO, having previously appeared Off-Broadway opposite Steve Martin in Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" at Lincoln Center in 1988. Also featured in the cast are Glenn Davis, Brad Fleischer, Hrach Titizian, Sheila Vand, Necar Zadegan and Arian Moayed. In Rajiv Joseph's savagely funny and deeply affecting play, BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO - a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in Drama - a tiger haunts the streets of present day Baghdad seeking the meaning of life. As he witnesses the puzzling absurdities of war, the tiger encounters Americans and Iraqis who are searching for friendship, redemption and a toilet seat made of gold. So does BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO have a golden touch? Let's find out.

Charles Isherwood, The New York TimesRajiv Joseph's smart, savagely funny and visionary new work of American theater invites fanciful comparison to the titular beast. "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," for all the killing and suffering it contains, is buoyed by the vitality of its imaginative scope. Violence is not after all the only human activity that can have far-reaching, unforeseen effects, shaping lives far into the future. Mr. Joseph's richly conceived play reminds us that art can have a powerful afterlife too.

Charles McNulty, LA Times: Williams submits himself wholly to the play's utterly natural surrealism. Concerns that the actor might turn this into a vehicle for his signature shtick are dispelled right way: Williams is in complete sync with the blasted tragicomic vision of the playwright, whose ample humor is far too sneaky for stand-up showboating...He's put himself at the drama's service, and if that means ceding the stage to Moayed, whose poignancy has only deepened, so be it.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: Rajiv Joseph's "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," which opened last night on Broadway, blends black humor and surreal drama. Yet the comedian's portrayal of the title's big cat is so consistently understated that it becomes self-effacing. Like the show in general, it doesn't deliver on its promise.

Mark Kennedy, Associated Press: Joseph may be a gifted young playwright but he has pretty much hit the jackpot by landing the 59-year-old Williams, who stalks this fascinating, ambitious play about war as a restless tiger's ghost in human clothing, all bushy-bearded and sarcastic. The range of emotions Moayed conveys over the course of the play is stunning, while Titizian is nightmarishly good as the murderous Hussein. Williams sinks his teeth into his meaty part, sometimes bending the script to serve his voice, not the other way around.

Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune: The dark, rich and provocative Rajiv Joseph play "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," a worthy finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, has arrived on Broadway with Robin Williams in the title role...Frankly, the tiger could liven up, although the biggest problem with Williams' performance is that it seems to miss much of the amoral ferocity of the beast (a tiger can be depressed or antic, but he is still a tiger). And a bigger problem yet is that Williams' Tiger is, as things go, not so much the protagonist as a sardonic observer of Baghdad ironies.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: And despite all the ghosts, "Bengal Tiger" isn't as stirring as it strives to be. It restates a famous 1960s war poster that noted: "War is not healthy for children and other living things." Like soldiers, gardeners and tigers.

Terry Teachout, Wall Street JournalMr. Williams's performance is equally predictable, but it's not his fault, for he's playing the tiger as written: The script calls for a superficial Hollywood-style performance, and he obliges, sounding not unlike Bruce Willis playing the wisecracking baby in "Look Who's Talking." It doesn't help that his one-liners aren't sharp enough, though Mr. Williams does his best to make them snap..."Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" is still mediocre.

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Williams has not given a performance this subdued in years. He commits to being part of an ensemble, never ramping up into a star turn. There's no comic shtick in his thoughtful Tiger, yet...the ripples of humor are rich and flavorful. This is not a predigestEd Moral treatise that delivers bite-size conclusions, but a provocative and hauntingly surrealistic play from a distinctive voice.

Matt Windman, amNewYork: Staging the play in a large Broadway theater usually reserved for musicals does not work to the play's ultimate advantage. Nevertheless, Rajiv's intelligent drama, as staged by Moisés Kaufman, convincingly captures the chaos of Iraq immediately following the 2003 invasion.

Robert Feldberg, NorthJersey.com: For all of its offbeat perspective, "Bengal Tiger" has a message of agony and frustration that's all too familiar.

Michael Sommers, NJ Newsroom: Depicting the philosophical tiger with grim humor, a gruff-voiced, soulful Williams submerges his bravura skills into the ensemble work of his fellow actors. Respectively playing the conflicted translator and increasingly cerebral Marine, Moayed and Fleischer unerringly chart their characters' evolutions. Titizian suavely portrays the amoral Uday's ghost - who totes his dead brother's head in a plastic bag - with a jaunty ferocity that's scary.

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