• Apr 27, 2017 - May 21, 2017
Regular Show

Guards at the Taj


By Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Jasson Minadakis

At morning’s first light, a new edifice representing the soaring power of the empire will be unveiled: the glorious Taj Mahal. But for the two hapless guards assigned to protect the palace, morning will set the wheels in motion for a ghoulishly funny existential crisis that will shake their faith in God, the empire and each other. Guards at the Taj is a dark comedy about two average men swept up by the beauty, carnage and injustice surrounding one of the most famous wonders of the world.

Award-winning playwright Rajiv Joseph is the author of the Pulitzer Prize-nominated Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo and The North Pool. Mr. Joseph received the Steinberg Playwright Award in 2013, the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award in 2015, as well as multiple Lucille Lortel awards and the 2016 Obie Award for Best Play for Guards at the Taj.

PLEASE NOTE: Seats in the front row are partial view, and patrons may experience wetness from the use of water on stage. The MTC Box Office has ponchos available to borrow should any front row patrons wish to wear one to avoid getting wet. Due to the use of red food coloring in the water, the wearing of ponchos is highly recommended to avoid staining your clothes! 

Front row seats have also been discounted to $25 in both center and side sections. 

WARNING: This production features simulated violence, theatrical haze, and brief nudity.

Questions? Contact the friendly MTC Box Office team: boxoffice@marintheatre.org

Jasson Minadakis

Jasson Minadakis

Co-Director, Co-Scenic Designer

Chris Houston

Chris Houston


Mike Post

Mike Post

Lighting & Projection Designer

Fumiko Bielefeldt

Fumiko Bielefeldt

Costume Designer

Rushi Kota*

Rushi Kota*


Jason Kapoor*

Jason Kapoor*


Rajiv Joseph

Rajiv Joseph


Annie Smart+

Annie Smart+

Scenic Designer

Video Gallery

Image Gallery

Alexa Chipman, Imagination Lane Reviews

Blood-soaked Legend Comes to Life in ‘Guards at the Taj’

If you see one play this year, it should be Guards at the Taj. Its gruesome theatricality parallels the Mughal Empire’s reign of staggering artistry living hand-in-hand with excessive violence. Completed in 1648, the Taj Mahal stood in regal glory, sparking the legend that Shah Jahan ordered such a thing of beauty should never be built again and required the hands chopped off of the 20,000 workers and artisans, ensuring its rival could not be created. It is highly unlikely such an event actually took place, but it is a recurring motif in folklore found around the globe, and likely the local manifestation of that theme, according to resident dramaturg Laura A. Brueckner. The story concept’s massive scale could become unwieldy, and in an early draft the play was filled with characters. Playwright Rajiv Joseph realized the centrality was represented in its least grandiose characters—the guards. The resulting two-hander play Guards at the Taj takes ordinary people and sets them in a world beyond their control, forcing them to make impossible decisions and live with the consequences.

While there are lofty moments debating the philosophy of beauty and play of power structures, at its heart the play is about friendship. Humayun (Jason Kapoor) believes that if he obeys the rules, his life will get better, despite the horror of living in between. Childhood friend Babur (Rushi Kota) is playful and emotion driven, leading him to feel the situation acutely, whether it is cheerily cracking jokes while standing guard, or wading through a blood covered set, traumatized by the experience. Their interactions are acutely humanizing moments; Humayun’s gentle kindness, silently washing his friend’s face is tragically beautiful.

Both actors are magnificent in this piece, from subtle eye twitches becoming comedic gold to numb horror when faced with a set drenched in blood. This is a gory play, with around 100 gallons of stage blood in various forms used in each performance. To practice, director Jasson Minadakis used puzzle pieces dumped onto the studio floor, and the actors practiced working through the dialog while moving them around, putting puzzles together, or flipping pieces over. This is no quaint Victorian fairy tale, it embodies the raw violence of ancient mythology before Disney got hold of it, when villains and heroes alike gushed blood and body parts.

Although the subject matter is extremely violent, most of the play is two men hanging out casually discussing whatever comes to mind, which happens to be quite profound. Joseph creates a conversational atmosphere, whether that is lighthearted ribbing about getting to guard the harem to desperately trying to deal with a dangerous situation by talking about something else to keep the mind occupied and not thinking about what is going on. Sound designer Chris Houston adds texture to the setting, layering recorded Indian bird songs in outdoor scenes to the point where they almost become another character, and ominous echoing and dripping blood when necessary. Annie Smart’s deceptively simplistic set design is effective and filled with concealed traps that become relevant as the story progresses.

This play has an intrinsic shock value, but also the intimacy of two friends trying to survive in a world that doesn’t care about individuals. Through creativity of spirit they manage to keep their humanity in tact until the monarch requires something so heinous that it crumbles around them. As Humayun laments, “what is caring going to get me?”

David Templeton, North Bay Bohemian

Royal 'Taj' 

There are works of art that are exciting and captivating to experience, but which quickly lose their initial spark of pleasure, diminishing in brightness the more you think of them. Guards at the Taj, by Rajiv Joseph (Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo), does the exact opposite. It leaves one a bit stunned and baffled, then gradually begins to reveal its own weird wisdom and audacious genius in the hours and days after.

That's the effect that director Jasson Minadakis' bizarre and beautiful new production at Marin Theatre Company had on me, anyway. There will surely be those who have a very different reaction to Joseph's uncomfortably funny, heartbreakingly horrifying, Monty Python–tinged retelling of a certain gruesome ancient folktale about the famous Taj Mahal.

In other words, it's not for everybody. In fact, Guards is as polarizing a piece of stagecraft as I've seen in years.

But for those who, like me, hunger for something different and who don't mind a few hundred gallons of fake blood, then MTC's twisty assault on its viewers' hearts, heads and souls could easily become one of the most memorable and important theatrical experiences of 2017.

There is not much more I can say without spoiling Joseph's carefully crafted storytelling. So if you're already inclined to check the play out, please stop reading and go buy your tickets now. For the rest, allow me to reveal these few details.

The Taj Mahal, built in in India in the mid-1600s, is widely considered the most beautiful palace ever built. In Joseph's inspired takeoff on a (probably) fictional myth, a pair of lowly guards—played brilliantly by Jason Kapoor and Rushi Kota—must stand watch outside the Taj during its construction. The ruling shah has decreed that none may look upon it before completion, on pain of death, and that no other structure shall ever surpass its beauty. In fact, he has devised a brutal plan to assure that none of its builders will ever attempt its equal.

Then things get really messy.

What follows is underscored by a brilliant verbal give and take between our two hapless heroes, delivered with modern, f-bomb-dropping, Cheech-and-Chong-ish parlance that's as refreshingly funny as it is achingly endearing. Guards is a challenging, off-putting and amazing theatrical fable, one that you won't, and shouldn't, soon forget.

Marin IJ

★★★★ “Fascinating … funny and disturbing in all the right places.”

Sam Hurwitt, Marin IJ

Humor, philosophy and gore in MTC’s ‘Guards at the Taj’

It’s 1648 in Agra, India. The Taj Mahal has just been completed, commissioned by the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to be the most beautiful thing ever created, and no one may glimpse it until morning. Two guards stand watch at the gate in the wee hours before dawn in stony silence—or at least that’s what they’re supposed to be doing. In fact they can’t stop talking for a minute, much as one of them keeps trying to make the other one knock it off and be still. 

That’s the opening of “Guards at the Taj,” the new play by Rajiv Joseph making its Bay Area premiere at Marin Theatre Company. This is Joseph’s first play at MTC, but he’s already a popular playwright in local theaters. He won the Glickman Award for best play to premiere in the Bay Area in 2011 for “The North Pool” at TheatreWorks, which later produced his play “The Lake Effect” as well. San Francisco Playhouse has staged his “Animals Out of Paper” and “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” and his plays have popped up at various other companies around the region. “Guards” itself, which premiered in New York in 2015, played Sacramento’s Capital Stage less than a month ago.

It’s a terribly funny play that takes a gruesome turn early on and keeps on throwing out disturbing twists. The comical pair of guards bouncing ideas off each other and squabbling in solitude invites comparisons to Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” among other works, and certainly there are echoes here and there. But it’s a fascinating narrative in its own right that combines historical tidbits with amusing flights of philosophical fancy while remaining deeply rooted in the friendship between the two guards. 

Jason Kapoor, previously seen at MTC in “The Invisible Hand,” is the serious and low-key Humayun, who just wants to do good work in hopes that someday they might be assigned something other than the lousy jobs that nobody wants to do. Rushi Kota’s impulsive, happy-go-lucky Babur, on the other hand, constantly chatters about things he could be executed for saying if anybody heard him. 
As much as Humayun tries to keep Babur in line, he can’t help but get sucked into the conversation, whether it’s gossip about the construction of the Taj Mahal or musing about cleverly prophetic inventions they’ve dreamed up. They soon get a ghastly assignment that anyone particularly steeped in Taj Mahal lore might be able to guess, and nothing is quite the same after that.

MTC artistic director Jasson Minadakis gives the play a well-crafted staging that’s funny and disturbing in all the right places. Annie Smart’s set of an imposing arched doorway surrounded by stars gives a strong sense of being a small part of something much bigger than themselves. Mike Post’s lighting captures the all-important sunrise and sense of wonder that goes along with it, accentuated by the calling birds and swelling music of Chris Houston’s sound design.
Even through we know, because it’s a two-person show, that the guards aren’t going to have a run-in with anybody else, an acute awareness of the grim consequences of in any way displeasing the emperor is always hanging over them, and there’s more than a little gore involved to underscore that unease. Still, what really comes out in the story is a sense of wonder, an appreciation of beauty and curiosity about how things work and what might be possible. Such musings are far from encouraged by the powers that be, but they’re what fill the guards’ relationship — and the play — with life.

The Washington Post

“Fiendishly good … a rather ingenious piece of theater.”