"Guards at the Taj" Arian Moayed and Omar Metwally
Credit: Doug Hamilton

Guards at the Taj

A warning for theatergoers with delicate constitutions: Steel yourselves before seeing Guards at the Taj, Rajiv Joseph’s riveting new two-hander at Off Broadway’s Atlantic Theater Company. For after the opening scene—which finds childhood friends–turned–imperial guards Humayun (Omar Metwally) and Babur (Arian Moayed) gaping in wonder at that just-unveiled Mughal masterpiece, the Taj Mahal—the play dissolves into perhaps the most astoundingly brutal tableau you’ll ever see on stage. Even strong-stomached viewers might find themselves averting their eyes. (Think Martin McDonagh—a notable Atlantic vet—but without the black-comic absurdity.)

To reveal more details—or the cause of the carnage—would be spoiling the shocking premise, wobbly though it might be, behind Joseph’s mid-17th-century-set tale. Unfortunately, it’s secondary to the bond between Humayun and Babur, beautifully illustrated by Metwally and Moayed (a Tony nominee for Joseph’s 2011 Pulitzer finalist Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo): Metwally brings a quiet intensity and ferocity to the stiff-lipped, take-charge Humayun; Moayed, meanwhile, exudes unbridled emotion as the idealistic, impressionable Babur. Even amid any other aesthetic unpleasantness, you won’t be able to look away from these two actors. B+

Guards at the Taj
  • Stage