Rajiv Joseph volunteered in Senegal for the Peace Corps for three years
Joseph is being hailed not only as a
cerebral writer but as also someone who
feels the audience temperature. Racial
profiling remains the theme of The
North Pool, some observers say, while
the play also works as a gripping thriller.
Not all his plays have received with the
same warm reception as Bengal Tiger,
but none has been condemned outright
by major critics.
In Animals Out of Paper (2008), one
of the most touching and stirring plays
seen in a long time in New York, a young
and highly gifted Indian student who is
distressed over his mother’s death has
sex with his teacher, with the one-night
stand leading to disaster.
There is satire, fun, and moral
quandary in Bengal Tiger, and quite a
bit of violence.
In the Los Angeles version, which may
not really change on Broadway since
both productions are directed by
Kaufman, the Bengal tiger is the narrator from war-torn Baghdad. As the play
proceeds we begin to think of the
uncharted fates of men and the tiger,
and how violence maims everyone.
One of the American soldiers, who is
displaying to his friend the gold-plated
gun he looted from treasures that
belonged to Saddam Hussein’s sons,
seeks to slip a Slim Jim to the tiger and
is mauled by the starving creature. His
friend does not think a minute before
shooting the tiger
As we are invited to wrestle with
moral issues, we have to deal with
Saddam’s son Uday who in purgatory is
reliving in his mind the days of looting
before the Americans stopped his fun.
The New York Times, which dispatches
its critics to London to review exciting new shows there,
also sends its top critics to American and Canadian cities to
evaluate much discussed new shows. It sent Charles
Isherwood to review Bengal Tiger in Los Angeles who wel-
comed ‘this boldly imagined, harrowing and surprisingly
‘Mr Joseph’s play is wonderfully daring in its imaginative
scope, convincingly evoking the fraught relationships
between the occupying American soldiers and the fright-
ened, suspicious Iraqi civilians,’ Isherwood wrote. ‘But it
also exhumes the ugly ghosts of the Hussein regime —
Saddam’s cocky, vicious son Uday is among the play’s spec-
tral presences — to illustrate how fear, repression and vio-
lence had corrupted the culture even before the invasion
spawned an explosion of factional conflict. ‘
In a world full of angst-filled writers with extreme opin-
ions and a poison dart ready for critics and fellow writers,
the ever soft-spoken and self-effacing Rajiv Joseph is an
exception. Looking younger than his years, he could be
mistaken on the NYU campus for a grad student.
He travels from Houston to San Francisco to Los Angeles
to New York several times a year, spending time with the
directors of his new and revived plays.
Joseph has explained how a tiny news item about a real
tiger in an Iraqi zoo in 2003 sent creative adrenaline racing
through his brain.
But it took several months to wrap a theme around a bare
concept. The show was workshopped at several theaters
before it had a big opening in Los Angeles last year. While
many will look at it as a political drama, Joseph says he
does not consider it a war play, adding that the title
depoliticizes it. ‘There are scenes that depict wartime conflict, but the play has to do with other themes,’ he said.
world of the marginalized, says Arthur J Pais
Rajiv Joseph’s new play on Broadway stars Robin Williams.
The playwright has whipped up a buzz for himself by looking at the
With his name roaring above the title of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, Oscar, Grammy and Golden Globes winner Robin Williams is surely the big draw for the play on Broadway.
But let us not forget that the Pulitzer finalist play by Rajiv
Joseph was an already acclaimed hit in Los Angeles last
year. A ghost story, a political tale, and a parable for our
times dealing with power and its misuse, the Iraq drama
directed by Tony-nominated Moises Kaufman features
Williams as the tiger.
‘I always have a hard time finding plays I want to direct
but I recognized a new voice (Joseph) that was thrilling,’
said Kaufman, whose 2009 drama starring Oscar winner
Jane Fonda 33 Variations was quite a success on Broadway.
The first week for Bengal Tiger fetched a handsome
$650,000 in previews.
Apart from plays, Joseph has been writing episodes for
Showtime’s dark comedy Nurse Jackie and is still teaching
writing at New York University, though he has cut down
the teaching load for a few months.
How many writers have two plays creating good buzz at
almost the same time at the two ends of the country, with
the Alley Theatre in Houston preparing to stage the world
premiere of his new play, The Monster at the Door, this
spring? His very first work Huck & Holden will travel in a
few months to Ohio, his home state.
Theater fans across the country are getting many oppor-
tunities to acquaint themselves with Joseph who the Los
Angeles Times called, ‘one of the most provocatively talent-
ed American playwrights to emerge in a long while.’
‘He explores the complexities of grief and loss as only an
old soul can. I was stunned to see how beautiful and young
he was,’ Amy Glazer, professor of theater and film at San
Jose State University said recently. ‘He is totally one of the
next big things. He is one of the truest chroniclers of con-
temporary culture ‘
A few months ago when the Pulitzer Prize finalist Bengal
Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo was running to a packed house in
Los Angeles, the curtain was going up in New York for