'Bengal Tiger,' With Robin Williams, Coming to Broadway in March

Originally published on October 10, 2010 | New York Times | written by Dave Itzkoff

Confirmation arrived on Thursday that Robin Williams will indeed star next spring in a Broadway production of Rajiv Joseph's play "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo," and from the horse's - or is that tiger's - mouth?

"It just hit me hard, it was so powerful," Mr. Williams said of Mr. Joseph's play in a telephone interview. "I read it, and I was going: 'I'm in. I can come into it and create it from the ground up.' And I'm hairy enough to be a tiger, so that's good."

The play, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2010, had a critically acclaimed run at Center Theater Group's Kirk Douglas Theater in Los Angeles last year, and at the group's Mark Taper Forum earlier this year.

Mr. Williams, who was introduced to the play by the wife of his manager David Steinberg, said he was drawn into the material because of "the Buddhist nature of it."

"Most of the time," Mr. Williams said, "most of the characters are, to be blunt, ghosts. I mean, I don't want to spoil it - 'This is what's about' - but right off the bat, you're in Iraq, it's all these ghosts wandering around, talking and gaining more consciousness as they continue through the play."

He continued: "The closest thing I've done to this play is 'Godot.' It's like Beckett but even darker, which is hard to do."

Mr. Williams, who starred with Steve Martin in a 1988 production of "Waiting for Godot" at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, will be making his Broadway debut as an actor in "Bengal Tiger," which will have its opening night on March 31 at a theater to be determined.

In previous trips to Broadway Mr. Williams performed two nights of a stand-up comedy show there in 2002, and more recently attended a matinee performance of Carrie Fisher's one-woman Broadway show, "Wishful Drinking."

"You heard a lot of beeeeeps," Mr. Williams said, making a high-pitched noise. "What's that? Hearing aids going off. It was amazing. She was asking people questions, and it was almost like you could hear the audience going, 'Oy, English.' "

Though Mr. Williams said he thought that "Bengal Tiger" would be challenging for him and for audiences, he expected it would fit right into a New York theater season that has accommodated productions like The Public Theater's "Gatz."

Mr. Williams said: "When I read that they were doing a version of 'Gatsby' set in an office and it's six hours long, I went, 'O.K. - we're O.K., then.' "

The Broadway run of "Bengal Tiger" will be produced by Robyn Goodman, Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller and Center Theater Group.

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