Sunday, 31 May 2015

Rajiv Joseph's GUARDS AT THE TAJ at the Atlantic Theater Company

     In this long (2 hours) one-act play, two men are guards at the Taj Mahal on the day it opens in 1648 (it actually was completed in 1653. In the play the Emperor who ordered the design and building of the magnificent tomb for his favorite wife wanted to ensure that nothing as beautiful would ever be constructed again. To accomplish this, he ordered that the hands of the 20,000 workmen who built the Taj Mahal, were to be cut off. Our two characters have been ordered to perform this mass dismemberment. We seem them cleaning up the bloody chamber where the dismemberments took place. For Bubar, the more sensitive of the guards (Arian Moayed), this is not only a brutal act, but an attempt to kill the creation of beauty. Has anyone the right to decree that beauty will never be created again? His fellow guard Humayun (Omar Metwally) is a more conventional man who believes first and foremost in following orders. The men turn from friends to enemies with awful consequences.
     We certainly see enough evidence around us of brutal regimes destroying man-made beauty -- the Taliban and ISIS, for instance -- and treating ordinary people with contempt and violence. The points Joseph seems to be making in GUARDS AT THE TAJ seem rather simple and obvious for a two hour play. There's a lot of realistic physical detail -- a stage literally awash in blood for part of the play, but the play moves into more poetic realm at the end as we move more into the imagination of one of the characters.
        Amy Morton has staged the play effectively. I saw an early preview and am sure the rhythm will tighten before the formal opening. The two actors are excellent. I can't say that the play moved me.
GUARDS AT THE TAJ. Atlantic Theater Company at the Linda Gross Theatre. May 26, 2015.

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