Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay
The place is Agra, India, the time 1648, and two Imperial guards, Humayun (Jason Kapoor) and Babur (Rushi Kota), are at the gate for the final touches on the mighty Taj Mahal. Shah Jahan, the emperor, has decreed that no one except the masons, laborers and slaves shall turn to look at the building. The two guards stand in respectful silence, but they're old friends since childhood and they can't resist talking, especially Babur who is a chatterbox. He is full of ravenous inquisitiveness and Humayun is just the opposite, being all obedient to the emperor's wishes.
Humayun and Babur talk about their dream job in the harem and share their ideas for creations like an "aeroplat" that allows to people to travel to the stars or visit other countries. Finally, they talk about how the emperor has ordered that the 20,000 men who built the Taj should have their hands cut off, lest they ever create something as beautiful again. Babur is appalled at this. Against the advice of the emperor, at first light the temptation to steal a glance is too much for them to resist. What follows is the atonement they suffer.
Rajiv Joseph's natural dialogue between the two guards is brilliant. ("If we hadn't done our jobs tonight, we'd be hanging by our necks in the royal courtyard getting our eyes pecked out by the royal crows. So excuse me if I don't wallow in some misbegotten guilt all night," says Humayun.)
Jason Kapoor and Rushi Kota are outstanding in the 85-minute no-intermission drama. Kota skillfully plays jumpy Babur and Kapoor deftly plays the more mature Humayun. There is humor within the horror in the second scene, with baskets of hands with rivulets of blood. They talk about their inventions, including the creation of a "transportable hole" that could transport anywhere in the world.
Director Jasson Minadakis brings out the best of the talents of these two actors and their banter sparkles. Annie Smart has designed an interesting gate. The Taj is not seen, but lighting designer Mike Post provides a blaze of white light to make its presence known. Channel of rust-colored blood runs throughout the stage. Fumiko Bielefeldt's costumes for the two men are authentic, with long sabers. They look as if they are from an Arabian nights movie from the 194Os or '50s.
Guards at the Tai runs through May 21, 2017, at the Marin Theatre Company, 397 Miller Ave, Mill Valley. For tickets call 415-388-5202 or visit marintheatre.org. Coming next is Matthew Lopez's The Legend of Georgia McBride running June 8 through July 21.