CAST to perform free show for veterans

The Carolina Actors Studio Theatre in Charlotte will open its doors to veterans and their families on Veterans Day for a special, free performance of their show, “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.”

Co-director Michael Simmons said the show was inspired by a true incident of a U.S. service member who was bitten by a tiger in 2003. “The actual plot uses that incident as a starting point, but the script is then fictionalized after the opening scene,” Simmons said.

The show, which isn’t recommended for children younger than 16, runs through Nov. 11 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings beginning at 8 p.m. Select matinees will begin at 2:30 p.m. The special Veterans Day performance will be a matinee.

Michael Harris, co-director of the play and playing the role of the “Tiger,” said the show is a dark comedy and drama that intends to cast a metaphorical look over Operation Iraqi Freedom, “intermingling the tortured souls of prey and the predators.”

CAST liked the script as a “soldier’s ghost story,” Simmons said, because of its ethereal nature and that it was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.

“The audience can expect an experience beyond just the text from before they enter the theater, through the performance and after curtain call,” Simmons said.

In order to create an authentic military portrayal, CAST consulted retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Rosalyn Morris, who served tours of duty in Kosovo, the Sinai Pennisula in Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq.

“Not only has she provided us with costumes and research, but specializes in the mental health of soldiers and thus was invaluable in understanding the traumatic stress and post traumatic stress that our men and women in the service endure in the field and carry with them after returning home,” Simmons said. “The actors have been schooled in handling the replica weapons as well as fight choreography.”

Harris said his character, the Tiger, is a “foul-mouthed, sarcastic and somewhat cheeky character, who not only haunts and preys on those around him, but is disturbed and haunted by his questionable past (while) on his quest for answers to the meaning of life.”

Harris said performing in this show was different from his other performances.

“Being a tiger as opposed to human really gave me some free range to explore options and choices,” he said. “One acting tactic is to adopt and channel an animal instinct, in this case my animal is already chosen, so I decided to adopt a human character instinct. I chose a character from my past in the ‘East End of London.’”

Harris said he has been performing all his life, but has been in theater for about 25 years.

“I believe I am the only one in the cast that has military experience,” he said. “I served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, the British Army, and served in West Germany before the Berlin Wall came down.”

Because of his prior service, Harris said he is “delighted” that the show is free-of-charge to past and present service members on Veterans Day, Nov. 11.

“It is a show that they will really get,” Harris said. “From the blunt language and jibes of service life to the post loneliness and abandonment of reflection, and sometimes even guilt.”

There also will be a panel discussion after the Friday, Nov. 2, performance to talk about the themes of the play including death, redemption and experiences of war. Panelists will include a local minister and a member of the show staff, said Steve Dunn, member of the North Carolina Committee for Employer Support of the National Guard and Federal Reserve. Dunn has been working to promote the show.

“From an artistic managing director’s standpoint, our job is never to tell the audience anything — only to ask the questions and then open the door to continue dialogue in hope that we become a smarter and wiser nation, thinking very seriously and with great purpose as we ask our youth to sacrifice their lives,” Simmons said. “This and the ongoing repercussions of metal and physical injuries of homecoming servicemen and women and their families cope with are on the agenda.”

Simmons said he expects the performance, while uncomfortable at times, to be able to utilize humor to mitigate the drama.

“In the end, the patrons come away having been told a unique perspective of the Iraqi war and will be willing to share their experience and opinions with the panel and each other,” Simmons said. “Almost everyone has been affected by this war. We will be most successful if the conversation continues once the patrons leave the theater and they share with friends and family. Maybe if we used the arts to explore these very difficult questions, we might find a way to communicate across cultural boundaries that allow dialogue to be a more powerful weapon than bullets.”

For more information or to purchase tickets, go to nccast.com or call 704-455-8542. Tickets are $28 for adults, $22 for seniors and $18 for students.

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