In Rajiv Joseph's comedy, the eponymous Tiger (a pleasingly droll and gruff portrayal by Kevin Tighe, padding around in gray sweats with a shock of silver hair and matching beard) has an appetite. Once he ate two children. “It wasn't cruel,” he explains. “It was lunch.” And though such high-toned sitcom banter offers a reprieve from any sanctimonious artiness and self-importance, the glibness does wear thin. With crackling dialogue laced with subtext, the play begins as the beast is being guarded by two American GIs, Tom and Kev (Glenn Davis and Brad Fleischer), in 2003 Baghdad. When Tom sticks a piece of meat inside Tiger's cage, his entire hand winds up being severed by the beast's teeth. (How easy it is to lose a part of oneself.) Kev shoots the Tiger with a pure-gold handgun Tom looted during a raid of the Husseins' palace. That gun, and a gold toilet seat he pilfered during the same raid, hold the key to Tom's future back in the U.S., or so he believes. The problem is, it doesn't belong to him. It was once owned by Sadam Hussein's son Uday (Hrach Titizian), who also appears as a ghost, sometimes alongside the ghost of the now-slain Tiger. That gun, that gold, and the barbarism surrounding it, belong to Iraq, so believes Musa (Arian Moayed), a local topiary artist once hired by Uday to sculpt zoo animals out of greenery, and who now works as a translator for the Americans. The play's beauty lies in how it unfolds with the structure of a novel. That structure is breathtaking in Act 1. Focus shifts, scene by scene, from one character to the next, while literary images — a severed hand, a withering topiary garden of statues, a gun and a toilet seat made from gold — form a delicate binding. This structure reaches its pinnacle at the end of Act 1. In Act 2, it begins to go in circles. Joseph's view doesn't quite settle at all. It continues to float, like his ghosts, so that his visions of God and Iraq and what we've done there are more like whispers than a conviction — even the conviction of a feeling.Mark Taper Forum, 135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.; Tues.-Fri., 8 p.m.; Sat., 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sun., 1 & 6:30 p.m.; thru May 30. (213) 628-2772. (Steven Leigh Morris)

Sun., April 25, 7 p.m.; Tuesdays-Fridays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays, 2:30 & 8 p.m.; Sundays, 1 & 6:30 p.m. Starts: April 25. Continues through May 30, 2010

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