Sign up for our free newsletter
Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore once called it “the tear-drop on the cheek of time.” The marble-white wonder whose elegant domes pierce the sky in Agra, India, is Mughal emperor Shah Jahan’s memorial to his beloved wife, Mumtaz Mahal. A monument to love and remembrance, the Taj Mahal becomes the literal and symbolic centerpiece of Rajiv Joseph’s new play, Guards at the Taj. In 1648, the titular characters, Humayun and Babur, stand guard facing away from the Taj Mahal, whose surrounding walls are set to come down at dawn to unveil the grand mausoleum. Although they are forbidden from speaking, the childish and free-spirited Babur cannot help engaging the persnickety and law-abiding Humayun. The Beckett-style banter that fills the idle hours of anticipation calls to mind Waiting for Godot, but the play’s light humor takes a grim turn when the pair gets asked to participate in the emperor’s unfathomably horrific scheme. As the two friends become more entrenched in this bloody affair, we begin to glimpse the darker undertones of this symmetrical splendor. With his tragicomic tale, Joseph implores us to face the gruesome myths that shroud this ethereal treasure and to question the ultimate costs of ambition, power, and love. The play runs Feb. 1 to Feb. 28 at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, 641 D St. NW. $43–$68. (202) 393-3939. woollymammoth.net.