PLAYBILL ON OPENING NIGHT: Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo — A Robin That's a Cat

By Harry Haun
01 Apr 2011

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Arian Moayed, who figures movingly in the play as a Hussein gardener-turned-wartime translator, couldn't agree more about Williams' rehearsal deportment. "Oh, he always ad-libs, he always makes us laugh — but it's never with the text," he declared. "As actors, you know how to process. The process is usually personal and private, but Robin's process — because he's such a genius — is open and real and alive and in front, so we get to see his process. It's an amazing thing."

Moayed is the only New York-based actor in the entire company. "Moisés auditioned me here in New York — three days of auditions, an hour each — and the last day he said to me, 'I want you to do this note.' I thought I did what he said, but he said not. I called my agent, and I was, like, 'I didn't get it.' And a couple of hours later, I got it."

Fleischer, who plays the quick-to-shoot Kev, had finished his enlistment as one of the young recruits in the Roundabout revival of David Rabe's Streamers and returned to Los Angeles for pilot season when Bengal Tiger was dangled in front of him. "I told my agents, 'Sorry. If I'm lucky enough to get it, I'm going to take this play no matter what.' And I got it — over a lot of other phenomenal actors.

"I don't think Kev is representative of all soldiers, but there are a lot who go over there who think life is going to be like a video game, and they are, unfortunately, surprised very negatively. The transition of what he goes through, which is losing his mind, is to me what is Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Lots of soldiers come back with it, and Rajiv can represent this in a way that's accessible to audiences."

He doesn't owe his hard body to boot camp, Fleisher admitted. "I got it at Threshold Fitness. My trainer, Matthew Eyde, was, like, 'If you are going to be a Marine, I'm going to train you like a Marine,' and he brought me my threshold."

With the hair-splitting-but-duly-noted exception of Fleischer, who was among the ensemble mob of 40 in Coram Boy, the rest of the actors — Williams, as previously noted, included — were marking their collective bows as Broadway actors.

The two women in the seven-member cast — Sheila Vand and Necar Zadegan — fielded two different roles a piece. Zadegan, in particular, cleaned up spectacularly well for the party, since the last Iraqi woman she played was a leper. "The makeup is so extensive," she noted. "They're all prosthetic pieces, and it's incredibly detailed and my makeup artist, Adam Bailey, is fantastic.

Sheila Vand
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

"These two characters I play really exhibit the face of Iraq in the show. The first woman elicits a harsh realism, and the second character is living in the poetic metaphor of the play. That's exactly what I like about the show: the dichotomy between the harsh reality and the poetic metaphor. That dichotomy is exhibited well in my two characters and throughout the play itself. I love it. I think that's where the strength of the show lies."

Theatre arrivals had the kind red carpet commotion that befitted an A-list star. Sting and an old "Comic Relief" cohort of Williams', Billy Crystal, bustled by with the wives in tow, Trudie Styler and Janice Crystal.

Sh-K-Boom Records exec Kurt Deutsch, left holding the purse while wife Sherie Rene Scott worked the press line, was made to feel at ease when asked to recite the original cast recordings he got from the current season: Sister Act, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, Catch Me If You Can, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and The Book of Mormon.

Arriving with the wife he found on a red swing in Ragtime (Lynette Perry), producer Kevin McCollum, was asked if he had money in Bengal Tiger. "I have passion in this show," he replied, meaning yes. "If you have passion in a show, money will follow. Money is only the tool. Passion is the destination." Y'know, he could get a guest-lecturer gig at colleges with that spiel.

Neil Simon, with wife Elaine Joyce-Simon on his arm, said, yes, he was working on a new play. ("Always. In my sleep.") Standing beside his longtime producer Emanuel Azenberg, at intermission, the two looked like bookends at the entrance of the Richard Rodgers which they last played with their 45 Seconds from Broadway.

John Glover arrived, still reeling from a wonderful afternoon birthday party —Elizabeth Wilson's 90th! Primary Stages pitched it for her at the West Bank Café and packed the house with her nearest and dearest (Estelle Parsons, Austin Pendleton, director Jack Hofsiss, Penny Fuller, et al). "I met her in 1964 at the Barter Theatre, where I started in the '60s and where she started in the '40s," crowed Glover. "She spoke to the gathering beautifully. Did you hear what Mike Nichols said? He said two of the best moments he'd ever seen on stage and screen were Elizabeth's — when she took the cigar out of George C. Scott's hand in Uncle Vanya and when she hugs the refrigerator when Dustin Hoffman tells her he's going to get married in 'The Graduate.'"

Ben McKenzie, present to support pal Glenn Davis, is contemplating a pass at New York theatre. "I'm doing another season of 'Southland' in the fall so I'll have a little bit of time on my hands," he said. "We'll see what happens. I did a play last year in L.A. at The Taper, the production that came from the Roundabout here with Judith Ivey and Patch Darragh. I was The Gentleman Caller."

There were a number of actor-director hyphenates among 'em: Guy Stroman, Bob Balaban, Walter Bobbie and Lonny Price. Balaban said he'll be back on Broadway next season, directing.

Also glittering: Jenn Colella (of the coming Lucky Guy); playwright Douglas Carter Beane (Sister Act) and his Tony-winning muse, Julie White (though not necessarily together); Tovah Feldshuh; "SNL" star Rachel Dratch; actress-producer Tamara Tunie and hubby, singer Gregory Generet; Nanette Burstein; Vanessa Nadal; comedienne-producer Jamie deRoy (in a splashy glow-green tiger-design jacket) with filmmaker Rick McKay; a gorgeous Grace Hightower; producer Judy Gordon with columnist Roger Friedman; producer Roy Miller; That Championship Season director Gregory Mosher; Exit the King's Susan Sarandon, hunting for another stage entrance ("I'd love to come back — that play spoiled me — but maybe a little more Off-, not so much on. There's not so much pressure Off-Broadway."); Colin Quinn, whose recent Long Story Short on Broadway will get longer on HBO, starting April 9; J.D. Williams; Brynn Thayer; Actors Studio's inside-man James Lipton; the creative trio of the upcoming Bring It On (book writer Jeff Whitty, lyricist Amanda Green and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda); Peter Asher; Jeff LaHoste; and ex-Shrek Brian d'Arcy James.

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