Thursday September 20 9:03 am

Spotlighting events along the south shore of Lake Michigan

"Guards at the Taj" is not for the squeamish!

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Humayun (Metwally) and Babur (Moayed), who have been friends since boyhood, stand at attention, with swords up, during their regular overnight shift guarding the construction zone which will someday be the Taj Mahal. Tonight is special, because the walls around the construction are coming down. Tomorrow, people will be allowed to look at it.

Although they aren’t supposed to talk while on duty, no one is around, so Babur shares some of his wacky ideas with his best friend. They’ve been told that dawn is the best time to see the Taj, so even though it’s prohibited, Babur wants to look. Eventually, he gives in to the temptation. After hearing his awestruck tones, Humayun also turns to look.

They also talk a bit about the Emperor who is building the Taj, and his odd system of rules and penalties. Humayun mentions that the Emperor doesn’t ever want something more beautiful than the Taj built, so he’s decided to have the hands cut off all 20,000 workmen and artisans. Suddenly, he groans because he’s just realized that they will have to do the job.

The next scene is in a cave-like dungeon where the floor is inches deep in blood. Humayun thinks he might be blind because he can’t open his eyes, while Babur complains that his hands are permanently clamped around his sword. Babur is distraught over the night’s work while Humayun kept reminding his friend that they just did their job. Eventually, they start cleaning the mess, mopping up the blood and carrying out basket after basket filled with hands.

When they are back on guard, Humayun says they did such a good job cleaning up that they’d been assigned harem duty. When Babur speculates about what might happen if the emperor died, his friend reports him.
Back in the dungeon, Babur is chained to wall when his friend comes in. Humayan says that when he got home, his father, who always knew when he was lying, made him tell the truth. Then he pulls Babur to the chopping block …

Playwright Rajiv Joseph also wrote “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” which just creeped me out. “Guards at the Taj” grossed me out. There is a disclaimer on the website which states that the production …contains blood, violence and brief partial nudity…which can be distressing and may not be suitable for all audience.

“Guards at the Taj” runs through July 22nd in the Upstairs Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago. Paid parking ($12 cash or card) is available in Steppenwolf’s garage at 1624 N. Halsted. Valet parking is also available ($14 cash).

Running time is 1 hour, 20 minutes, no intermission. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturday at 3:00 and 7:30 pm; Sunday at 3:00 pm. There is no performance on July 4th. Tickets range from $20-$94. FYI (312) 335-1650 or www.steppenwolf.org.