Guards At The Taj

The Overwhelming Power of Beauty and Brutality

guards-5Northern India from the early 16th to the mid18th-century was governed by Shah Jahan, a member of the Mughal dynasty. Mumtaz Mahal (“Chosen One of the Palace”) was the favorite of Shah Jahan three queens when she died in 1631 after giving birth to their 14th child.

The Steppenwolf Theatre Guards at The Taj bring this story to the stage from the eyes of two men that had the privilege to guard the outer walls as the emperor built within one of the most magnificent sights known to humanity, the Crown of the Palace; known as the Taj Mahal.

The grieving Emperor, who was known for commissioning extraordinary structures throughout his reign, summoned that a building of splendor and beauty be brought forth as a mausoleum throughout the Yamuna River from his royal palace at Agra to honor his wife.

It took over 20 years and 20,000 workers from Persia, India, Europe and the Ottoman Empire to construct the mausoleum complex, along with 1,000 elephants, to build the magnificent multiplex. The crypt was fashioned of white marble inlaid with semi-precious stones (including jade, crystal, lapis lazuli, amethyst, and turquoise) creating elaborate designs practice known as pietra dura.

Legend has it after the beautiful mausoleum was built Shah Jahan had his slaves cut off the hands of the Taj Mahal’s architect and workers, to ensure that no other work of splendor will duplicate this feat; however some considering the chopping off the hands is a metaphor that down the years become a lore that has somehow got adopted literally.

guards-9Acclaimed Playwright Rajiv Joseph shares the surprising and gruesome tale about two ill-fated imperial guards who are guarding the exquisiteness of Taj Mahal unbeknown to the horrific price they will have to pay upon the unveiling of this magnificence edifice for the first time at the break of dawn. The two guard’s life-long friendship will be forever changed as well as their faith in God and the empire.

Although the two low-level imperial guards whose primary responsibility is to guard a section of the wall surrounding the castle, there are (3) strict rules that come with the daunting task of guarding the Taj. No talking, no lowering of the sword and no turning around to vast in the beauty of the mausoleum. If any of these rules are broken a severe penalty of civil disobedience, will be enforced including the ultimate punishment of death by an elephant.  Yes, you read that correctly!

Humayun played by Omar Metwally who got his friend Babur (Arian Moayed) the job to guard the Taj, respects and takes the rules very seriously; however,  Babur comes to work late, breaks the silence and is a fantasist, who will like to one day guard the imperial harem.

As much as Humayun insists on telling Babur to be quiet, he finds himself breaking the silence by engaging in conversations with him. Thier discussion is great for the audience to hear dialogue or else we would have been looking at two men standing perfectly still for 80 minutes.

Humayun heard a bizarre rumor about the architect Ustad Isa making a request to shah for a personal favor that the 20,000 workers who labored for numerous years on the building have an opportunity to tour the building on the day of the reveal. This request didn’t go over too well and resulted in an outrage carried out by the two guards who are forced to do an incredible act of retaliation when shah ordered a royal decree of enigmatic cruelty.

guards-4The next scene was a bloodbath set in a dungeonlike room where you get the picture that the Shah was serious about no one ever building something so beautiful again. Chosen to execute the horrendous tasks of removing the hands of the builders, Humayun and Babur follow the edict of cutting off their hands; however, the bloody savagery leaves them unsettled and perplexed, with Babur proclaiming he killed off the beauty in the world. After the request of shah is completed, they are promoted to guarding the imperial harem, but life after the order never seems the same.

The collaboration of Director Amy Morton and Playwright Rajiv Joseph tell the remarkable story how without art, life isn't worth living. As well as the human misery and suffering that so many endured creating a beautiful work of architecture.   

Let's Play recommend that you see 'Guards At The Taj' at Steppenwolf Theatre! 

The cast includes:

Omar Metwally (Humayun)

Arian Moayed (Babur)


Steppenwolf Theatre

Chicago Premiere Production of Obie Award-Winning Play
Guards at the Taj
Written by Rajiv Joseph

Directed by Ensemble Member Amy Morton

Now Playing Through July 22, 2018 

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