Review: GUARDS AT THE TAJ at Road Less Traveled Theater

Rajiv Joseph's gripping one act play GUARDS AT THE TAJ is now playing at Road Less Traveled Theater.

By: Nov. 28, 2022
Review: GUARDS AT THE TAJ at Road Less Traveled Theater
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The bonds of a true friendship rarely can be broken, even in the face of adversities. The story of such a friendship is being beautifully told in Rajiv Joseph's gripping one act play GUARDS AT THE TAJ now playing at Road Less Traveled Theater.

Never a company to shy away from telling complex stories, RLTP is responsible for bringing this and other powerful dramas to the Buffalo stage. First seen in 2015, this new play has much to be lauded as it proved to be an enlightening evening of theatre, sucking the audience in at every turn. Joseph writes of two guards who must protect the entrance to the construction site of the Taj Mahal in 1648.

Review: GUARDS AT THE TAJ at Road Less Traveled Theater
Afrim Gjonbalaj And Darryl Semira

One guard, Humayun, is the son of the chief of the guards, and bides by every rule. The other, Babur, is a dreamer and non conformist. The two have a strong friendship which has been built over years, beginning with their military training. They speak casually, often with present day language, which somehow makes them more human for 21st century audiences. Joseph's use of language describes the beauty of not only the Taj Mahal, but of nature as Babur waxes poetically about the stars and Humayun about the birds. Unexpected bits of foreshadowing occur when Babur speaks of a futuristic flying machine to reach the stars being used as a weapon to destroy beauty... no doubt harkening references to the 9/11 attacks.

Joseph's use of language describes the beauty of not only the Taj Mahal, but of nature as Babur waxes poetically about the stars and Humayun about the birds. Unexpected bits of foreshadowing occur when Babur speaks of a futuristic flying machine to reach the stars being used as a weapon to destroy beauty... no doubt harkening references to the 9/11 attacks.

The two men in the cast are simply superb in their roles, without a hint of one being superior. Darryl Semira as Babur is full of energy and a boundless imagination. His disregard for the rules never seems malicious, but rather founded in endless youthful wonder. Semira's brings a believable inquisitive nature that is both endearing and comical.

Afrim Gjonbalaj as Humayun finds the perfect balance of respect for his seniors, his job , his friendship, and his God. When he gives into Babur's endless rambling, he unleashes his own inner imagination, albeit less creative. These two fine actors easily convey a sense of camaraderie that would make any others jealous. They understand each other and respect each other.

As the play progresses the men develop a relationship that is so palpable it would be hard to imagine an existence without the other by his side. The Taj Mahal is to represent the pinnacle of beauty for eternity, but it's creation means that by the Shah's decree there can never be anything more beautiful. This paradox is difficult for Babur to comprehend and he believes he should not be an accomplice to the end of beauty.

Just then our playwright places the two in an unimaginable situation that puts an unspeakable stress on their friendship. Can the two remain true to the Shah when the future of all things beautiful is at risk? And in acting upon the Shah's command, how can the duo carry on their future lives? The conclusion is best witnessed in person.

The set by Dyan Burlingame is effective and firmly places the action in a far away land. Jenna Damberger's costumes are finely detailed, while lighting design by John Rickus immediately places us at dawn as the guards take to their posts. Later the lights magically envelop the stage as a flight of purple birds fills the sky above the forest showing nature's own beauty cannot be outdone by any man made creation.

Stage Director Katie Mallinson guides the duo with a swift hand, deftly handling the bits of humor as well as the points of high drama and acts of horror. Scenes that almost seem unimaginable on the stage are handled so convincingly that your heart aches for both of these tortured souls.

The hushed audience offered generous applause but then left the theatre quietly. Great drama can have that effect.

GUARDS AT THE TAJ plays at Road Less Traveled Theater through December 11, 2022. Contact www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org for more information



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