"Guards at the Taj" wins Obie - hands down.

On a delightful trip to Los Angeles in November, 2015 - Friday the 13th to be exact, we saw Rajiv Joseph's latest play, "Guards at the Taj" at the Geffen Theater in Westwood.  We love his previous plays, especially "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo".  "Guards" carried a warning not to reveal the ending.  That's because few would want to experience the end of this play. Likely I did not review it because I was still stunned.  

Featured are two guards who must stand rigid at the entrance to the soon to be completed Taj Mahal.  A wall separates them from the glorious mosque.  No one is allowed to see the work inside.  Life is boring and routine - the first act like a "Bob and Ray" radio comedy.  But slyly, the plot reveals itself as the  character of Shah Jahan, commissioner of the Taj Mahal, and the nature of life in an absolutist political system, is revealed in the guards' exchanges.  

Seems the architect, Ustad Isa, asked the Shah if the 20,000 workers could tour their completed masterpiece.  Rather than responding with benevolence, the Shah demands that the hands of the 20,000 workers and the architect be cut off so that nothing as beautiful as the Taj could ever be constructed again.  (Note to reader:  this is fiction, not fact.)  

Act II opens with the stage, now a pool several inches deep of blood and the two guards, who have been put in charge of the hand-ectomies, nearly out of their minds at the horror of their work.  Ultimately, one guard must cut off the hands of the other - and you see this (actually very well staged) in gory detail.  

So now you know "the rest of the story".  We left the theater feeling like we had been sucker-punched.  But it was good theater.  And it does deserve the Obie. 

Score:  Bloody Prince