Atlantic Theater Company presents Rajiv Joseph's world premiere black comedy about two Imperial Guards in 1648 India, assigned to protect the Taj Mahal. More…
At morning’s first light, a new edifice representing the soaring power of the empire will be unveiled, the glorious Taj Mahal. But for the two hapless guards assigned to protect it, morning will set the wheels in motion for a ghoulishly funny existential crisis that will shake their faith in God, the empire and each other.
"'Guards at the Taj' is a compelling piece of theatre that will surely excite audience members. Some might be disgusted or perplexed by the disturbing mirror it places in front of them - because if anything the play is extremely timely, and one has to sadly acknowledge that it seems to be quite prescient as well - others will undoubtedly be shocked, and most will certainly be entertained. The one thing no one will remain is indifferent, and this is exactly what great theatre should do. Full Review
"'Guards at the Taj' is a staggering, uncomfortably comedic, and deceptively simple play about the profound repercussions of a job well done...What 'Guards at the Taj' shows us is the creation of such beauty...Largely a comedy. Indeed, almost slapstick...it’s a trademark of Joseph’s playwriting that he can juxtapose the horrific with the comedic, elevating both in profundity." Full Review
"While this Stoppardian form (attacking serious subjects with light and witty language) could easily become very dull, it never does thanks to committed performances...One wouldn't normally associate laughter with such a terrible act of cruelty, but it's really the only way to get audiences to take this journey without descending into unrestrained pathos. Simultaneously witty, tragic, enlightening, and prescient, 'Guards at the Taj' is definitely a trip worth taking." Full Review
"A bloody good – and I do mean bloody – consideration of beauty and the price of it...The playwright fluently composes his period drama in modern conversational language and wisely gives these comrades modern-day mindsets. The contrasts that he draws between beauty and barbarity are striking. Glints of character-related humor continually brighten the drama, which is absorbing both in its history and in the compassionate relationship that these friends share." Full Review
"It's deeply moving, lovingly acted and packed with ideas. But it's not for everyone. There's existential angst, silliness, horror and pitch-black humor. Strong stomachs are required... At the play's end, you may look down at your hands with a new-found respect. Then put them together to honor an envelope-pushing playwright and two stunning actors." Full Review
"Horrific things happen, shocking events occur. You will laugh, occasionally. You will gasp. You will, most likely, cry...Both men play their parts brilliantly, and director Amy Morton knows how to pack a punch...I thought about the play off and on for days, which is really the highest compliment I can pay to a work of art." Full Review
"Before seeing the show, I’d heard that the second scene causes jaws to drop…and wow, I never could have predicted the gruesome turn this two-hander (!) would take. Let me be clear: this is an expertly written play and I can’t recommend it enough. But if you’re squeamish, maybe sit this one out." Full Review
"In his strikingly original drama, 'Guards at the Taj,' Rajiv Joseph entrusts the romantic legend of the Taj Mahal to two lowly palace guards...The playwright’s amusingly anachronistic idiom and two excellent performances from the likable actors in this two-hander keep us entertained — and totally unprepared for some shocking plot turns...The unveiling of the Taj Mahal becomes a magical onstage moment." Full Review
"This is a compact two-character play loaded with ideas and evocative imagery. It begins almost like a comedy sketch but develops into a haunting consideration of loyalty and betrayal between friends, of duty and blind adherence to barbaric command, and of the ownership of beauty...His attention to philosophical, existential and spiritual questions makes 'Guards at the Taj' a strange but unexpectedly moving experience." Full Review
"The timeframe not withstanding, guards Humayun and Babur speak with coolly modern and accessible dialogue, including profanities. Their conversations begin as a meditation on beauty, but evolve into a relatable discussion of morality hinging on the idea of responsibility for one’s actions...It’s a well-crafted meditation on friendship and loyalty that calls to mind more contemporary ideas of men who have committed heinous acts simply because they were following orders." Full Review
"You don’t doubt for a minute that these two young men were boyhood friends. They speak to each other with an intimacy that’s taken for granted. They share a history and carry the play easily. It’s a delight to watch their back and forth. 'Guards at the Taj' deals with both violence and tenderness, a combustible combination...The play touches on blind obedience, loyalty, friendship, and honor. It can be a little talky, but it’s always intelligent and often compelling." Full Review
"A warning for theatergoers with delicate constitutions: Steel yourselves before seeing 'Guards at the Taj', Rajiv Joseph’s riveting new two-hander...The play dissolves into perhaps the most astoundingly brutal tableau you’ll ever see on stage...Even amid any other aesthetic unpleasantness, you won’t be able to look away from these two actors." Full Review
"Beauty doesn’t come easily in Rajiv Joseph’s wildly unsettling 'Guards at the Taj'...By its second scene, 'Guards at the Taj' has veered savagely from its funny, gently puzzled, 'Waiting for Godot–ish' beginnings into grotesque brutality, inspired by a legend of the Taj Mahal’s creation...Although the bittersweet final sequence doesn’t quite come off, by then Joseph’s play has done its gruesome work. It has the scary-comic impact of a demon mask, and you won’t soon forget it." Full Review
"Joseph has written a small-scale work that raises big issues, without providing ribbon-tied answers. It considers the nature of beauty, and its sometimes terrible cost; the power of imagination; moral responsibility; and freedom, in its various manifestations. If Joseph intended to write a disturbing play, he's succeeded." Full Review
"The play suffers from awkward tonal shifts, but thanks to two immaculate performances and a beautiful staged production, it’s a show that proves curiously haunting...They are performances to savor, as is Joseph’s play, which, though uneven, raises not only existential questions, but also ones about the difference between the elite of society and those less fortunate who live beside (under?) them." Full Review
"Does the fictional nature of the play detract from its effectiveness? Perhaps, since the dark denouement has less force when we know the details of the story are imagined. But 'Guards at the Taj,' which has been directed with a rich sense of atmosphere by Ms. Morton, raises potent questions about the human price paid throughout history for the caprices of the mighty, even when they result in architectural wonders that ultimately give pleasure to the masses." Full Review
"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...The two actors are excellent. I can't say that the play moved me." Full Review
"I've admired Joseph's works for their imagination and originality. However, I found it hard to be amused or especially moved by this new play...I prefer gritty, provocative plays to more fluffy entertainment. However, given that the questions raised about ethics, friendship and the preservation of beauty are so obvious, this imaginatively conceived but gruesome realism places an unnecessarily excessive strain on the audience's equilibrium." Full Review
"It’s a fertile and timeless idea that’s worth exploring. Both actors deliver vivid performances under the direction of Amy Morton. But the play eventually spins its wheels. In the end, 'Guards at the Taj' leaves you hanging and comes down to something pretty obvious: Beauty comes at a bloody high cost." Full Review
"There's value in witnessing how average people are set upon by extraordinary circumstances and thus forced to either rise to the challenge or crumple beneath it. But for their ultimate fates to have the intended devastating impact, their evolution must be within an observable and consistent realm that lets us understand exactly why they're earned. Traveling to Oedipus from Seinfeld is, perhaps, not an impossible journey, but it's not one Joseph makes successfully in 'Guards at the Taj.'" Full Review
"Imaginative in its premise and benefiting from committed performances by its two actors, the play nonetheless comes across as rather overinsistent thematically and tonally too abrupt to register powerfully...If the scene is boldly conceived, its resonance is muted. There is neither the full exploration of a large crime’s aftermath nor sufficient literary adeptness to challenge our notion of real-life aesthetics." Full Review
"If you would like to see these two decent, reluctant but perforce obedient men slosh around on a stage with a convincing bloody mess left by 40,000 amputated hands, this is the play for you...There’s a carelessness in the writing that honestly surprised me...The two guards are said to have been close since childhood yet, when it’s convenient for the dialogue, Babur doesn’t know about his best friend’s boyhood hobby. " Full Review
"The play has lofty ambitions, but in reality it boils down to roundabout discussions between two dingbats who find themselves in over their heads. Sadly, the point is as lost on us as it is on them...The production may have worked better with slightly younger actors. Even then, it’d still be hard to shake the disconnect between the show’s lofty subject — the death of beauty! — and its glib tone." Full Review
"Rajiv Joseph’s 'Guards at the Taj' concerns itself with the overwhelming power of beauty; naturally, it is brutal to an almost nauseating degree...How odd that a play aiming to dramatize an assault on sensitivity should perpetrate the same assault on its audience. But then, as Joseph demonstrates too well, anyone can be a tyrant." Full Review
See it if you love character driven conflict. Sharp writing with occasional poetic musings. Plays based on true events. Plays that make you think.
Don't see it if blood, gore, or violence disturb you.
See it if You like stories that make you look within, see yourself from perhaps a way you've never seen or wanted to see yourself and really grow.
Don't see it if You have no interest in maybe seeing that you've got a darker side than you thought.
See it if you like absurdist works w a punch. Best new play of the year. Brilliant! Unsettling. Masterful staging. Great acting. Laugh and cry.
Don't see it if you are squeamish; difficult Act II in stage filled with blood. Everyone else should see this play in the tradition of Beckett.
See it if You like cheeky, horror flicks or historical fantasies with satirical bents. Odd tone - but good payoff and a major surprise reveal.
Don't see it if You are squeamish or get woozy at the site of blood.