The Milwaukee Repertory Theater's Guards At The Taj Exquisitely Examines Beauty and Power
By Livia Peterson
The Milwaukee Repertory Theater presents theatrical productions allowing us to be entertained and ponder, as stated in the mission statement: The Rep ignites positive change in the cultural, social, and economic vitality of its community by creating world-class theater experiences that entertain, provoke, and inspire meaningful dialogue among an audience representative of Milwaukee’s rich diversity. With that said, the Milwaukee Rep’s Stiemke Studio Season opener, Rajiv Joseph’s Guards at the Taj provides one of the best character studies I’ve seen in the Milwaukee theater scene.
The low ranking guards Babur (Owais Azeem) and Humayun, often referred to Huma (Yousof Sultani) protect the gorgeous Taj Mahal during Agra, 1648. While Babur arrives late to his post and handles almost everything with a grain of salt, Humayun follows the strict orders in hope of a promotion. Without providing the spoilers, Babur and Humayun are assigned to complete the unthinkable. At one point, Babur yells I killed beauty!
Ponder for one moment. What does beauty mean to you? What does power mean in a tyrannical situation? Compare it to the foolishness of the Trump Administration. As I was watching Guards at the Taj unraveling before my eyes, the production mirrors today’s circumstances and thus, sobs gently poured down my face.
Anchored by the astonishing performances, the technical designs are equally brilliant. As soon as one enters the theater, one is bound to be immediately charmed by the Scott Davis’ set design. As the production progresses, Alison Siple’s costumes impeccably reflect the time period and Barry G. Funderburg’s (previous Rep credit includes Our Town) sound design and composition and Noele Stollmack’s (previous Rep credit includes Animal Farm) lighting design completely immerses us in to the narrative.
I was fully invested in Babur and Humayan and yet, I did not want the partially depressing, partially hysterical, and extremely suspenseful production to conclude. Therefore, Guards at the Taj provides many unexpected twists and turns with strong language and graphic scenes. If this were a film, I would rate the production a mild R and recommend to ages sixteen and up.
Despite Guards at the Taj may provide some disgust, the production is relevant more than ever, thanks to Brent Hazelton’s bold direction, dazzling performances, and unique technical designs. Cannot wait to attend the production again, hopefully during the closing weekend.
Guards at the Taj continues through Sunday, November 4, 2018.
Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Milwaukee Repertory Theater│Stiemke Studio
108 East Wells Street, Milwaukee WI 53202
Official Website │414-224-9490