There are works of art that are exciting and captivating to experience, but which quickly lose their initial spark of pleasure, diminishing in brightness the more you think of them. Guards at the Taj, by Rajiv Joseph (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo), does the exact opposite. It leaves one a bit stunned and baffled, then gradually begins to reveal its own weird wisdom and audacious genius in the hours and days after.
That’s the effect that director Jasson Minadakis’ bizarre and beautiful new production at Marin Theatre Company had on me, anyway. There will surely be those who have a very different reaction to Joseph’s uncomfortably funny, heartbreakingly horrifying, Monty Python–tinged retelling of a certain gruesome ancient folktale about the famous Taj Mahal.
In other words, it’s not for everybody. In fact, Guards is as polarizing a piece of stagecraft as I’ve seen in years.
But for those who, like me, hunger for something different and who don’t mind a few hundred gallons of fake blood, then MTC’s twisty assault on its viewers’ hearts, heads and souls could easily become one of the most memorable and important theatrical experiences of 2017.
There is not much more I can say without spoiling Joseph’s carefully crafted storytelling. So if you’re already inclined to check the play out, please stop reading and go buy your tickets now. For the rest, allow me to reveal these few details.
The Taj Mahal, built in in India in the mid-1600s, is widely considered the most beautiful palace ever built. In Joseph’s inspired takeoff on a (probably) fictional myth, a pair of lowly guards—played brilliantly by Jason Kapoor and Rushi Kota—must stand watch outside the Taj during its construction. The ruling shah has decreed that none may look upon it before completion, on pain of death, and that no other structure shall ever surpass its beauty. In fact, he has devised a brutal plan to assure that none of its builders will ever attempt its equal.
Then things get really messy.
What follows is underscored by a brilliant verbal give and take between our two hapless heroes, delivered with modern, f-bomb-dropping, Cheech-and-Chong-ish parlance that’s as refreshingly funny as it is achingly endearing. Guards is a challenging, off-putting and amazing theatrical fable, one that you won’t, and shouldn’t, soon forget.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★½
‘Guards at the Taj’ runs Tuesday–Sunday through May 21 at Marin Theatre Company. 397 Miller Ave., Mill Valley. Times vary. $20–$58. 415.388.5208.