Guards at the Taj by Rajiv Joseph


I first learned about playwright Rajiv Joseph (pictured above) from a brief theater piece on PBS.  Though only in his early 40s, he has achieved much in his brief career, including being a finalist for the 2010 Pulitzer Prize.

Theater Review Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo

Yes, that is comic genius Robin Williams (above w/ castmates)- he appeared a few years back as the tiger in Joseph’s critically-acclaimed play, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.


Mr. Joseph dramatizes a dark myth about its building that stands as a grim allegory of the supreme divide between the powerful and the powerless in 17th-century India and, perhaps by extension, many places today.

Babur’s lively imagination drives the conversation, as he fantasizes about elaborate flying machines and wonders about the provenance of the stars. “I think God wants us to learn more and more things,” he says.

-Charles Isherwood (NYT Review: June 11, 2015)

This play can be seen from FEB 1-28 at the Woolly Mammoth Theater in DC. It consists of only 2 characters, Humayun and Babur, lowly imperial guards in the city of Agra, India (referred to then as Hindustan).  Their duty it is to stand in front of the building site of the Taj Mahal, facing away from it.  Babur has the energy of an overgrown kid.  He arrives late and keeps breaking the silence that the guards are supposed to maintain, to the disapproval of Humayun. Obeying the rules is something Humayun takes seriously. There are severe punishments for various levels of civil disobedience.

I saw an existential allegory about the struggle of incompatible universal impulses within human nature.  –Comment from NYT reader

We will probably never know what was done to the artisans who built the Taj, but we do know, like those who slaved for years to build the Pyramids, the Taj artists have remained invisible.  –Comment from another NYT reader

The Taj is a memorial tomb for Shah Jahan’s favorite wife, has been hidden by a wall during its  16 years of construction. The guards, longtime friends (who call each others “bhai,” meaning brother) are awaiting dawn, when the tomb will be unveiled to the public.

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