A U.S. soldier watches over a Bengal tiger in Baghdad’s zoo that was donated by a U.S. conservation group. AFP picture found on the Radio Free Europe website. Click here to read their story: “Iraq asks World to Help Replenish Baghdad Zoo.”

Bloodstains on the Chin: El Ogrito and Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo ~ excerpt of a review by LA Weekly‘s Steven Leigh Morris published on 05/20/2009.

Cannibalism and the safe havens of gardens are in the air this year, prevalent symbols of brutality and refuge, as we try to fathom the consequences of what we’ve been doing in the world for the past decade. Suzanne Lebeau’s El Ogrito (The Ogreling) — at the 24th Street Theatre — is a fairy tale about a mother trying to protect her young son from the heredity and instinct of blood lust. His father, you see, was/is an ogre, or one who eats children. After going through six of his own daughters, he fled in order to give his infant son a chance. Dad hangs offstage in the forest, watching with admiration as his son struggles with hereditary, demonic passions to eat little animals and, eventually, little children, while his mother strives valiantly to ban the color red from the house and serve him vegetarian fare grown in the garden — in these plays, gardens always serve as an antidote to the horrors of who we are.

That garden shows up also in Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, being given its world premiere by Center Theatre Group at the Kirk Douglas. It’s a beautiful play but not a huge risk for CTG. They got a generous NEA grant to produce it, after it was developed by the Lark Play Development Center in New York. On the part of a CTG, it’s more a triumph of administration than creativity but a triumph nonetheless. Among the living and the ghosts populating Joseph’s dreamscape is a topiarist in 2002 Baghdad named Musa (Arian Moayed), though the occupying American soldiers inexplicably call him Habib. Musa works for Uday Hussein — yes, that would be one of Saddam’s notorious sons. On the palace grounds where Musa works, he has created large sculptures from trees — now tattered figurines of an elephant and a lion and giraffe, which show up in Derek McLane’s scenic design. The place seems to have a calming effect on the people who wander through.

(Howard KordersIn the Garden, which was part of South Coast Repertory’s Pacific Playwrights Festival this year, also features a garden as an emblem of refuge in American-occupied Iraq. The man who designed it is an American architect working on commission. His creation, taking 16 surreal years to complete, includes the intoxicating scent of lemon blossoms derived from the childhood memory of his Iraqi patron. That garden, like the garden in Bengal Tiger, is a place where time stands still, until it’s bombed by the U.S. forces.)

Click here for full review.

EL OGRITO is playing on Saturday, May 30th at 1pm at the 24th Street Theatre, 1117 W. 24th Street, LA, CA 90007, http://www.24thstreet.org.

BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO is playing through June 7th at the Kirk Doublas Center, 9820 Washington Blvd, Culver City, CA 90230. Click here for more information.