Post Curtain Call:
Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo
A 4-hour drive up to Penang to catch ‘Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” and my, my, do I want that golden gun. Stick around to find out!
It was our first time in Stage 2, PenangPAC. Walking in to the set of Bengal Tiger, we were met with a simple yet beautiful set. It was covered with emotions and definitely had character. Throughout the play, the set changes were very minimal but we couldn’t help but notice that the set was really underused.
The lighting did not help much with the emotions of the play. It basically lit up the scene and left it at that. We got some of the effects of the lighting but sometimes it was redundant. There was a beautiful gobo used and even that was under-utilized. For some reason, the sound was muffled throughout the whole play. It must’ve been the sound system because even the announcements were muffled. The sound design was just alright. There had been good moments and okay moments, but no bad moments. The only questionable moment was the point of the last song. Why?
The general direction of the piece was fair. It was clear that the director, Christopher Preslar, had his own vision but I guess, him being one of the cast members, some of his directions got lost. Some of the things which popped out is one of the soldiers stripping, and the music at the end. The intentions of those were really unclear.
On to the actors! Let’s just briefly say, firstly, if we had a golden gun in our hand, we would have shot a number of people in the first scene itself. The opening scene saw Christopher Culver as Kev, and Iz Sulaini as Tom, with Christopher Preslar as the Tiger. Whenever Iz spoke, we noticed two things- does he have a handful of dodol in his mouth? And, he’s American? His enunciation made squinting a part-time job. Both American soldiers displayed very little acting capabilities, one more so than the other. Christopher Culver played the stereotype and was very caricature-ish, same goes with Farah Jasani, who played the Iraqi Teenager and Hadia. Her teenage role felt more like a 10-year old and there were no distinguishing characterisations between the two characters. She started off good, but lost it midway.
The tiger… well, productions where the director is one of the actors is usually a bad idea and yes, it was a bad idea here. How should we say this.. the tiger was not a tiger at all. If anything, we felt like he was more of the Emcee from ‘Cabaret’; overseeing the happenings of the zoo. However, he delivered his lines well and did get his points across. And his costume choice was not tiger-like at all. He might as well have been a graceful, large wing-spanned bird with that cardigan.
Kabilan Murali Dharan, who played both the Iraqi Man and Uday, also did a good job with his characters. As the Iraqi Man, even with the bag over his head, he could be clearly heard although he spoke only in Arabic. As Uday, his character was overly caricature-esque but it worked well for the play and his scenes. It was almost over the top but gelled well when next to Musa (mostly).
The best scenes were the ones who saw Phraveen Arikiah, who played Musa – the working translator for the soldier. When Phraveen first took the stage, we could feel like he was hiding something from the audience, and so he was. Although when that bit was revealed, it didn’t feel like a big deal. Phraveen had an accent but sometimes dropped the accent displaying higher emotions. Phraveen, who we learnt practiced his English with the dictionary and English movies, had a journey; his English was supposed to improve throughout the play BUT he already exhibited great grammar in the beginning of the play. We were expecting some missing words but the sentences were… perfect.
The other actor that we must commend is Putrina Mohamad Rafie who was the embodiment of the Iraqi Woman and the Leper. Putrina spoke ONLY in Arabic but we could understand her through her emotions. Taking the stage and diving right into such heavy emotions, she gave us goosebumps. Putrina as the Leper was good but we feel like she could have done more, especially playing an older woman. Her posture and movements were slow and old lady-like, but her voice was still young.
Generally, the play was enjoyable, and at parts cringeworthy. But it was a good one, better than the last play we watched from Preslar. A job well-done to the cast and crew of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.