This is a reprint of my remarks about “Guards At The Taj” at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater presented on their Stiemke Studio Theater during the 2018 – 2019 season. This originally appeared on my Facebook timeline on October 1, 2018!
It’s a thrill when a play challenges you. It is often one of the reasons you attend live theater. But “Guards at the Taj” (The current play at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s Stiemke Studio Theater) goes way beyond challenging, it is brutal. Brutal to the point that another friend who attended last night called it R rated, not safe for children. “Guards at the Taj” finds two imperial guards on the dawn shift guarding the just completed Taj Mahal on the morning of its scheduled unveiling. Humayun (Yousof Sultani), an unremarkable son of a prestigious father, and Babur (Owa’Ais Azeem), a dreamer of grand imagination whose friendship with Humayun seems unexpected!
Their conversations in anticipation presents some challenges. We are faced with the opposition of beauty to banality, imagination to casual acceptance, a sense of adventure to a practiced desire for safety. Certainly topics that resonate in our century…not just in 17th Century India.
But the emperor has decreed that nothing as beautiful as the Taj Mahal can ever be built again. The resulting brutality initially destroys Babur’s mind, then his soul and finally his body…as he takes on the weight of the world under the mantle of having killed beauty. Alternately Humayun retreats into himself and relies on his careless need for safety and normality.
This. Is. a. brutal play. It was written by Rajiv Joseph but you wouldn’t be surprised to think that Samuel Beckett didn’t have some fingers in it.
Mr. Sultani and Mr. Azeem are incredible in their respective roles…and they are not easy to play. Bravo to them for their performances.
Director Brent Hazelton had staged a moving and well-orchestrated presentation that visually makes sense and is timed perfectly. The initial set is beautiful and dutifully opens to reveal a prison room behind. Unfortunately we never get to see the Taj Mahal!
The play runs through November 4th!