**Robin Williams: A Spark of Light and Madness**
The last time I saw Robin Williams marked his first Broadway role in more than two decades; the Juilliard-trained actor cast as the sardonic tiger-narrator of Rajiv Joseph's Pulitzer-nominated play, *Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo*. Man and beast, both trying to survive in Iraq, following the fall of Saddam Hussein. One of Williams' more subdued roles, it resonated equally disturbing, provocative and unforgettable. War served as the backdrop, rather than context.
*"Cruelty echoes all around me, even in this ruined garden,” the tiger confided.*
Uncaged on Richard Rodgers Theatre stage, Williams quickly evolved into the play's pivotal role -- the darkly comedic, passionately pathotic, philosophy-quoting tiger who crossed paths of two American marines and an Iraqi gardener searching for a golden toilet seat and matching gun. Williams sported a thick, white beard; his hair an unkempt, tattered mane. No costume required.
*"It’s alarming, this life after death,” explains the tiger. “The fact is, tigers are atheists. All of us. Unabashed. Heaven and hell? Those are just metaphorical constructs that represent ‘hungry’ and ‘not hungry.’ Which is to say, why am I still kicking around?”*
A decade after his recovery from heart bypass surgery, and half that from the Betty Ford Center, Williams role spoke possibly more of the performer himself, rather than the play's malaised feline. His kinetic slapstick performed in voice and gesture -- blows equally landing just the same. Both play and tiger asked more questions than answered; human nature in peril conveyed.
*"You go your whole life never knowing how you look, and then you die, and you get this quick glimpse of how you look, to those around you, to the world." The tiger paused. "It’s never what you thought. And then it’s over.”*
Williams pitched lines perfectly, almost as if ad lib. In hind sight, they communicated so much more. Cloaked in despair and death, characters returned onstage, one by one, as ghosts; a continuation of the journey which they have seemingly little control. Even in afterlife, they still searched for answers.
*"I hear so much, you know? The plants, the wind, the animal sounds of the city. The hollow echoes of this gun. It’s either God’s lunatic voice, or His silence. Whichever it is... It makes you wonder what’s going on on the other side of the cage.”*
After the show, I thanked Williams personally. I told him honestly, it was a brilliant performance I'd never forget. He smiled and posed for a picture; the one I've shared with you above. Robin Williams inspired so many while he was here. He once said, "You're only given a little spark of madness. You mustn't lose it." *Through all those he touched, the spark lives on....*
***-- Edward E. Kramer***