June 12, 2015

The Taj Mahal is among the world’s most ravishingly beautiful creations, but should you have a chance to see it in person after watching “Guards at the Taj,” a new play by Rajiv Joseph, you may find yourself viewing it through a bloodstained haze. In this mostly absorbing two-hander, which opened on Thursday in an Atlantic Theater Company production directed by the noted actor Amy Morton, Mr. Joseph dramatizes a dark myth about its building that stands as a grim allegory of the supreme divide between the powerful and the powerless in 17th-century India and, perhaps by extension, many places today. The titular characters are Humayun (Omar Metwally) and Babur (Arian Moayed), low-level imperial guards whose duty it is to stand in front of the building site, facing away from it. Babur, portrayed with the restless energy of an overgrown adolescent by Mr. Moayed, arrives late and keeps breaking the silence that the guards are supposed to maintain, to the stern disapproval of Humayun, whom Mr. Metwally (“Sixteen Wounded”) imbues with a cranky dignity. Obeying the strict rules — no speaking, no lowering of the sword, and certainly no turning around to look at the building — is an imperative Humayun takes seriously. There are, after all, severe punishments for various levels of civil disobedience, including the ultimate: death by elephant.