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GUARDS AT THE TAJ Road Less Traveled Productions/RLTP Theatre
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Nov 20, 2022, 22:19
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Shea.s Performing Arts Center

Through December 11
Guards at the Taj Road Less Traveled Productions/RLTP Theatre

If you’re in a government position of power, you may feel you need the odd bodyguard or two.
If you’re a president, a king, an emperor or a dictator, you know you need a bodyguard.
The difficulty always is: Who can you trust?
Rome learned that with the Praetorian Guard, which gradually acquired the power to choose emperors, helped by bribery.
Their successors in Byzantium eventually quit hiring the locals and brought in Vikings, the Varangian Guard with their axes.
That’s where Rajiv Joseph comes in, with his “Guards at the Taj.”
Babur (Darryl Semira) and Humayun (Afrim G. Jonbalaj) are members of the Imperial Guard for Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, who built the Taj Mahal, four centuries ago.
It’s a memorial to his wife, requiring 20 years, thousands of workers, a thousand elephants and undoubtedly a significant share of the revenues of the empire.
Today, it still shows as the sign of unbearable and long-term grief, in a nation whose current leaders are unhappy it was built by a Muslim.
Babur and Humayun guard a door to the Taj, a fascinating set from Dyan Burlingame.
Humayun is a lot more dedicated to the duty than is Babur, who isn’t quite as committed to the post.
A key element in the story is that they took part in cutting off the hands of the workers, so they can never build something as beautiful again.
It probably never happened but the story is essential to the plot of this relatively long one-act play.
The two guards were assigned to that duty and there is blood on their swords.
There’s a split between the two buddies about what they did: Too much work? Really bad idea?
Joseph spins the story along quickly, in this one-acter, perhaps covering too much territory, like chirping birds and torture.
In the end, the hard-core guard goes with family and blows Babur in to their commander, with devastating effects.
There probably isn’t a lot of loyalty up and down or sideways among guard units.
“Guards” is interesting although its point isn’t clear.
Security units are vital and not always trusted by the boss, although they can certainly be used for the sleaziest duties: The British Guards in Northern Ireland, the Russian Guards in Ukraine or Hitler’s SS.
They need people like Humayun because they don’t want Babur, whose whole mind isn’t in the single place of doing only what he’s supposed to.
“Guards at the Taj” takes a story which could have been set anywhere and puts it outside one of world’s most beautiful and most recognized buildings, a long time ago.
Still, you emerge with questions

A.W.

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