Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Guards at the Taj *

If this is the play that won the 2015 Laurents-Hatcher Foundation Award of $150,000 ($50,000 to playwright Rajiv Joseph, $100,000 for the production), the pickings must have been mighty slim. The best I can say about it is that it provides employment for two excellent actors, Omar Metwally and Arian Moayed. I was happy to learn that a generous donor financed a trip to India for the actors to see the Taj Mahal. With what they have to endure every night at the Atlantic Theater, they earned it. Humayun (Metwally) and Babur (Moayed) are members of the Royal Guard at Agra. Although from very different backgrounds, they have been friends since childhood. Humayun, from a privileged family, is the organization man ready to obediently do whatever he is asked. Babur, of humble origins, has a rebellious streak and is a dreamer, thinking up fanciful inventions like a transportable hole and a palanquin that can fly to the stars. When the play begins, they are on guard just before dawn on the day the Taj will first be revealed after 16 years of construction. When the emperor decides to insure that no one who worked on it will ever be able to build something more beautiful, they must carry out his order. The tone of the play wavers unsteadily between Grand Guignol and black comedy. About two-thirds of the way through the play’s seemingly endless 80 minutes, one of the characters says “There is no point.” I could not have said it better. Timothy R. Maccabee’s set is effective in its simplicity and Bobby Frederick Tilley II’s costumes are evocative. Steppenwolf member Amy Morton (Who’s Afraid of Virginina Woolf, August: Osage County) directed. If you are unlucky enough to already have a ticket, I suggest not dining before the performance. Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission.

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