Review: Guards at the Taj

“Soft, what light through yonder … oh, wait, wrong play—never mind.”

“Soft, what light through yonder … oh, wait, wrong play—never mind.”

Photo courtesy of Capital Stage

7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Wednesday; $28-$38. Capital Stage, 2215 J Street; (916) 995-5464; Through April 16.
Rated 4.0

Humayun (Rajesh Bose) and Babur (Mohammad Shehata) are the 17th-century odd couple: Two imperial guards tasked with guarding the Taj Mahal on the eve of its grand unveiling in 1648. They have a difficult time sticking with the rules in this award-winning one-act by Rajiv Joseph, which debuted off-Broadway in 2015 and is directed for Capital Stage by Jonathan Williams.

This is a strange play which begins as something that one fears might drag on and on as the silence between the two men grows. It then turns into comedy as Babur, the goofball of the two, notices the birds singing. There are first titters and then guffaws from the audience as his interest causes Humayun, the regimented one, to let down and enter into a conversation.

The story quickly turns dark, as we learn of the brutality of emperor Shah Jahan, who has built the Taj as a monument to his favorite wife following her death, and the unthinkable tasks the two men are expected to perform.

The play traces the love of two friends, the extremes to which they are both brought and how their friendship both sustains and ultimately destroys them.

What makes Guards at the Taj work so beautifully is the chemistry between the actors. The acting is solid, rich and varied, yet with a gentle sweetness that allows us to better tolerate the brutality that is to come. This will not appeal to all, but is an exceptional work by a proficiently coordinated team of actors, director and technicians.