Rolling into the Mark Taper Forum with a tank’s implacability yet also a measure of feline grace, Rajiv Joseph’s “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” has picked up a Pulitzer Prize nomination and considerably more emotionality since its 2009 Kirk Douglas Theater premiere. Helmer Moises Kaufman marshals the same cast and design team to even greater effect in Joseph’s collage of a world blown off its hinges and left to wonder why God is mute.
Arian Moayed’s Musa, one-time gardener to Saddam Hussein’s wayward son Uday, steps forward as the play’s moral center, the actor indelibly charting an artist’s dehumanization. On the U.S. side, grunts Brad Fleischer and Glenn Davis have cut back on the shouting and internalized their grief, now thoroughly possessing the power seen only fitfully last spring.
Hrach Titizian’s Uday still rants without ever inspiring true terror, but Kevin Tighe has added new flint to his folksiness as a dead tiger — you heard that right; it’s magical-realism time on Baghdad’s streets — on the prowl to satisfy his hunger for existential answers and raw meat.
The Taper’s open stage suits a play so preoccupied with the opinion of the cosmos, and offers welcome distance between Derek McLane’s brilliantly chosen fragments of a once magnificent metropolis. And David Lander’s award-winning lighting sculpts the spaces between reality and fantasy just as Musa crafts his shredded yet unbowed topiary animals: to bring some beauty and order in the midst of chaos.