BENGAL TIGER AT THE
by Rajiv Joseph
In an empty basement of a church “Somewhere in Texas where the country meets the city” a puppet stage is set up. From out of it pops a sock puppet who proceeds to talk about the beginning of mankind, where “we rutted as we chose careless in the night.” Then “some evil bastard” figured out many together could kill larger things, and women figured out more food meant less babies died. So humanity started camping and started making rules about doing bad things. Then “that same motherfucker who invented the group kill” invented the devil. The puppet leaves with a warning to the audience: “When I have acted badly, in order that I may stay around the campfire all I have to do is say…the devil made me do it.”
In the same church basement, Margery, a recently widowed mother, tries to teach a puppet class with a group of three clearly disinterested teenagers: Jessica, a nerdy and deadbeat young woman; Timothy, a horny and expletive-spouting young man; and Jason, Margery's introverted son. Of the three, only Jason and Jessica have brought their puppets, and Jason is the only one who has finished his––a sock puppet named Tyrone, the same one from the opening monologue. After Margery grows tired of Timothy's rude and vulgar interruptions, she sends Jason and Jessica out in order to have a private talk with Timothy. Timothy promptly reveals his sexual infatuation with Margery which she awkwardly and bluntly rejects. Before Timothy can do any more, Pastor Greg, a middle-aged preacher at the church, walks in, cuing Timothy's exit. Pastor Greg, who is clearly infatuated with Margery, invites the puppet class to perform in front of the entire church next Sunday. Margery awkwardly accepts. Pastor Greg also pressures Margery to accept a social engagement with him that she repeatedly tries to say she does not want to attend with him having just recently been widowed, but Greg will not relent and she repeats his words saying she will think about it.
Scene 2: Outside on the playground, Jessica and Jason hang out on the swings. Jason has a rather obvious crush on Jessica, who is fascinated by Jason's constant use of Tyrone. Jason, hoping to impress her, performs an excerpt from "Who's on First?" with Tyrone. When, in an attempt to impressing her, Jason lies that he made the skit up, Tyrone, as if on his own, announces that the skit is famous and calls Jessica stupid for not knowing the skit. Tyrone goes on to say that it's ok that she is stupid because Jason thinks she's hot, then elaborates on all the ways that Jason fantasizes about her. Jessica, embarrassed and more than a little scared, leaves.
In the car on the way home, Jason tries to tell Margery that he no longer wants to do the puppet class, which she refuses to listen to. Despite Margery's insistence, Jason refuses to continue with the puppets, demonstrating this by ripping his puppet's head in half. Margery, hysterical, kicks an apologetic Jason out of the car and drives away.
The next day, Margery waits in the puppet classroom for her students, but none appear. Pastor Greg enters and tries to comfort her, and subsequently reveals he is in love with her. Margery, who is still dealing with her problems at home, gently rejects him, which he does not take well, leaving her alone. Frustrated, she starts destroying parts of the classroom when Timothy enters with his puppet. After witnessing Margery's destructive rampage, he joins in on her command, their actions becoming increasingly sexual before they give in to their urges and engage in a violent, passionate embrace.
Jason is woken up in the middle of the night by Tyrone, who has been sewn back together and had teeth added to his mouth. Tyrone, angered by Jason tearing him in half, harasses Jason for his dreams of a happy life and hope to live like his dad. Tyrone claims that Jason's father was miserable and ate himself to death because he resented his child. He convinces Jason to return to the church and tell everyone exactly what he thinks of them, and to act rude to Jessica so she will sleep with him. Jason agrees.
Pastor Greg returns to the classroom to find it in shambles. As Margery and the students enter, she denies any knowledge of how the room was trashed, though Timothy is insistent on reminding Margery what happened through his incredibly not subtle hints. While waiting for Margery to print some materials, Timothy grossly insults Jessica. Tyrone pushes Jason to respond and then threatens Timothy "himself", who gradually becomes aware something odd is going on. Timothy reveals to Jason he had sex with his mother. An enraged Tyrone attacks Timothy, biting off his ear against Jason's own pleas. Margery and Pastor Greg run in to see the commotion. Tyrone can see from Margery's reaction that something did happen between her and Timothy and starts to accuse her of this. Margery can tell what he is going to say and before Tyrone can get the words out she declares that “the devil’s got him.” Tyrone confirms this by causing an overhead lamp to abruptly burn out, and the congregation flees from the classroom, leaving Jason alone with Tyrone.
After sewing Timothy's ear back on -- with puppet thread!! -- the group tries to figure out their next move. Margery insists calling the police is a bad idea, worried that they will take Jason away. Pastor Greg decides to take it upon himself to confront the boy.
Back in the basement, Tyrone, apparently with Jason's help, has destroyed the room even more. Pastor Greg arrives and tries to appeal to Jason by explaining he is trying to help his mother. Tyrone seizes the opportunity to reveal that Margery and Timothy had sex, and a horrified Pastor Greg stumbles out of the classroom back towards his office.
Timothy finds Margery alone in the office, and despite the pain of having lost his ear, still insists on his love for Margery. Succumbing to his advances, Margery kisses him (insisting this is the last time she will sleep with him), but their tryst is interrupted: first by Jessica, who is looking for the keys to Margery's car to get the rest of the puppets; second by Pastor Greg. Upon seeing this, Margery rejects Timothy once more. Angered, he leaves, insisting he will tell everyone about her. Pastor Greg, disgusted, goes to call the police, claiming he cannot keep Margery around if this is what she does. Margery finally snaps, calling out Pastor Greg for his harrasment of her. After finally letting out all her repressed anger, she decides she is better off going to the police. Pastor Greg, however, has another idea.
Jason and Tyrone are still in the basement when Jessica comes in through the window with her now completed puppet, a buxom character complete with button nipples named Jolene. Tyrone and Jolene proceed to engage in (highly vocal) sex. Jessica uses the distraction to finally get through to Jason, and tells him she will go to homecoming with him if he can get Tyrone off his hand. After the puppets have finished, Pastor Greg and Margery enter. Greg sends Jessica away and Margery tries to apologize for all her actions while talking over Tyrone's name-calling. Eventually, Tyrone grows so angry that he accuses Margery of killing “my father,” which causes Jason to go silent before he, as himself, angrily blames Margery for his father's death and tells her to leave, which she does reluctantly. Pastor Greg leaves with a warning to Jason that he needs to choose whether he or Tyrone gets out of the room. Jason, alone once again, decides he has had enough of Tyrone's influence, and tries to remove the puppet from his hand. Tyrone, however, attacks his puppeteer, calling him ungrateful for his help. After a lengthy struggle, Jason finally removes the puppet from his hand. Thinking he has defeated the devil, he then grabs a towel and tries to treat the finger that Tyrone bit. However, Tyrone shows up again inside Jason's towel, and once again tries to kill his puppeteer. Jason finally manages to restrain Tyrone to a table and grabs a hammer to try to bludgeon the puppet to death, but Tyrone keeps reviving with each blow. With no other apparent choice, Jason turns the hammer around and prepares to slam the claw of the head straight into his hand. Before he can do this, Margery returns, sees what he's doing, and tries to stop him, resulting in her own hand getting impaled by the claw of the hammer. Jason, horrified by what he has done, runs to help his mother. When Greg runs in and tries to approach Jason, it is Jason -- in his own voice and not Tyrone's -- that yells at him to back off. Margery promises that they will get some help together and the three head off to the hospital.
However, Tyrone emerges one last time from the shadows without Jason's help, now much larger and more demented looking than before. He mocks the audience for wanting to see him again, because that's what people want to do with the devil—you want him, and then you want him to go away. This resulted in humanity shifting the blame for their demons by killing the innocent, like sheep, lambs, and babies, before finally settling for killing the sweetest guy: Jesus. And humanity spends the last thousand years solving their problems by putting horns on them and watching their saviors burn. He disappears with one last warning to the audience: “The thing about a savior is you never know where to look. Might just be the place you saw the devil before.”
Date Aired: March 3, 2022
Team: Jennifer, Ricardo, and Sam
Analysis Technique: Exposition
Community Voices: USAF Airman Steve Novak discussing the importance of plays about war.
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