Helplessness under tyrannical rule - Guards at the Taj

October 3, 2018

If you do something, you'll be punished. If you do nothing, life itself is punishment. Sixteen years after construction began, Rajiv Joseph's play commences: the unveiling of the Taj Mahal. This deeply important piece runs at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater through November 4th.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Guards at the Taj in the Stiemke Studio September 26 – November 4, 2018. Left to Right: Yousof Sultani and Owa’Aìs Azeem. Photo by Michael Brosilow. 

 

Babur (Owa'Aìs Azeem) and Humayun (Yousof Sultani) stand guard at the most beautiful structure built by man, awaiting the moment when their worlds would be changed forever.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Guards at the Taj in the Stiemke Studio September 26 – November 4, 2018 featuring Yousof Sultani. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

 

Scott Davis's scenic design places audiences directly into Agra, India in 1648. The sweeping false proscenium brings the right balance of whimsy and elegance. Then, when the doors open, a new reality is revealed. The cruelty within the walls seems reflective of the lives outside.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Guards at the Taj in the Stiemke Studio September 26 – November 4, 2018. Left to Right: Yousof Sultani and Owa’Aìs Azeem. Photo by Michael Brosilow. 

 

Sultani opens the show as a law-abiding Humayun, son of a powerful man in government. He sets his gaze to his path here on Earth, in a constant effort to remain above the poverty line. Azeem's Babur contrasts Sultani, with childish antics and dreams in the sky. While the two grate against each other, their deep brotherly love for one another keeps them bonded, through thick and thin.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Guards at the Taj in the Stiemke Studio September 26 – November 4, 2018. Left to Right: Yousof Sultani and Owa’Aìs Azeem. Photo by Michael Brosilow. 

 

When the doors of the monument open, it appears as if "the moon [had] fallen", but the wonder is short lived as new orders befall the guards. Humayun accepts his tasks with grace, while Babur fights with all his being. "Beauty shall live!", he insists. "Beauty shall live."

Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents Guards at the Taj in the Stiemke Studio September 26 – November 4, 2018. Left to Right: Yousof Sultani and Owa’Aìs Azeem. Photo by Michael Brosilow. 

 

Whether beauty lived then, or if beauty lives today, is up to the viewer. However, Brent Hazelton's direction brings laser-like attention to the inescapable pain that overshadows the lives of those ruled by tyranny. Those who fight and those who flee are oppressed by the same means. And, there is a certain beauty in those with spirits strong enough to continue the fight for what is inherently good, even in the face of pure evil.

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