Theatre Three Succeeds with its Ferociously Acted Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Sometimes it's worth it to wait and catch a show at the end of its run rather than on opening night. By the third or fourth week, actors have it down. No stumbling over dialogue. No loss of focus.

So it is with the ferociously good production at Theatre Three of Rajiv Joseph's 2011 Pulitzer finalist Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, directed by Jeffrey Schmidt, with a cast that's acting the hell out of a black comedy exploring the meaning of life and war, and the thin sliver separating reality from dreams.

It's a tough, gritty play. The ghost of a slaughtered tiger — played superbly by Cliff Stephens — stalks the streets of Baghdad, joined by the wandering spirits of slain soldiers, civilians, Iraqi children and Uday Hussein (Mike McFarland), the sadistic son of Saddam. They're all in search of answers, mostly about why they're stuck in limbo between life and death. Two homesick American soldiers (Akron Watson and Parker Fitzgerald, both giving staggeringly good performances) confront all the beastly aspects of combat, including encounters with the wise, witty, weary tiger.

It's a beautiful production that thunders with profanity and violence, but not for trivial effects. Catch it on its final weekend on the big stage at Theatre Three.

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