Fleet Week is the unofficial opening day of summer in New York. Uniformed sailors float in for sweaty city fun, wandering the streets in search of a sweet, tangy bite of the Big Apple. The men and women are homogenous émigrés in sea of dissonant color and style, beacons of sameness in a city that idolizes individuality.
Paradoxically, it’s those very uniforms that stand out most in a crowd, a fact apparent at a Fleet Week performance of “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” I attended.
Here was a play steeped in The Cold Hard Truth of Operation Iraqi Freedom—hardly fun Fleet Week material—but several would-be revelers bought tickets anyways. In the auditorium their uniforms were like self-contained spotlights: Pre and post show, all eyes were on them.
Everyone seemed itching to know what the servicemen made of the play: Was it really like that over there? Were they offended by the anti-war message? And, more to the point, had a solid gold toilet seat really been poached from Saddam’s palace?
For all their dramatic intensity, war dramas often mean very little, politically, to a liberal, theatergoing audience. But “Bengal Tiger’s” odd collision with Fleet Week meant that theater had a rare occasion to live in parallel to it actual subject. “Bengal Tiger” may not have plans for an army tour, but for Fleet Week its surrealist, existential title character had his growling say.