Today, Peabody High’s Drama Club, Stage One, is off at the preliminary rounds of the Massachusetts Educational Theater Guild High School Festival. Commonly referred to as just “Drama Fest,” Peabody is competing after a two consecutive years of state championship.
Obviously, the stakes are high; coming back to the stage as the returning champion is endearing, however, Stage One is prepared for a fight.
Their competition play, “Guards at the Taj” follows two Indian guards stationed across from the newly constructed Taj Mahal. Humayun, played by Marc Fournier, is a stoic, proud, and steadfast member of the military keen on ranking up. His partner, Babur, played by Eric Viana, is quite the opposite; curious, questioning, and sometimes seditious.
The two characters start off posted facing away from the Taj Mahal, ordered not to look at it. Babur struggles with the notion of obedience wanting to see the new beauty behind him. He playfully argues with Humayun, trying to convince him that they should turn around. In this segment, one of the best comedic moments comes about as we watch Eric repeatedly thrust into the air as he chants. Babur’s corruptive conviction eventually overcomes Hymayun’s and the two look at the Taj bewildered.
Unfortunately, the jovial times cannot last as the emperor ordered all 20,000 workers, architects, and engineers to have their hands cut off. This decree comes in hopes of quelling any attempts to make something more beautiful than the Taj Mahal. And of course, our two guards were the ones to remove 20,000 pairs of hands.
We then see the two having to clean up the aftermath of the bloody dehandings. Babur begins to feel uncomfortable with what he was ordered to do, eventually coming to the realization that he and his peer were the enactors of an esthetic massacre. Babur is so afflicted by this realization that he even considers assassinating the emperor because of his grievous decree. Humayun though attempts to reverse the thoughts of Babur, arguing that their action was that of imperial order and had to be done. However, this rational couldn’t be transferred and Babur remained as seditious as ever.
In response to this, Humayun felt obligated to report and handle Babur’s derailment. Sadly, the play comes to a head as Humayun arrests Babur and is ordered to remove his hands. This final act of gore tears at Humayun as he flashes back to an earlier time when their friendship was lighthearted and carefree. The play ends looking on Humayun suffer, lonely in the dark.
Due to this powerful and emotional play, Stage One has an ace in their hand. Later today when they compete, they will be competing tenaciously for a chance to defend their title. Much like any team at Peabody High, this group of individuals, including all the running crew, ensemble members, stage hands, audio and visual techs, and well as the directors and organizers, have put in a characteristically large amount of effort and work into this play which will hopefully pay off as they progress in their competition.
Earlier in the week, I was able to talk with Mr. Carey, the drama teacher at Peabody High about the play.
In asking them about what he hopes for their performance to be, he replies “I hope they’re going to do really well. I think that it’s a really precise piece; I think the inclusion of the ensemble really opens it up and makes it accessible. So I hope they do really well.”
Furthermore, I asked if this play is another contender for a third state victory, to which he playfully responds, “Knock on wood. Hopefully.”
And finally, after seeing the play myself during second period Tuesday morning, I ask if there are any last minute additions or revisions being made to solidify their chances when competing today. “We have to make sure we have the recipe for the blood correct. Just between the second period show and the fourth period show, we got our shipment of food coloring in, so we’re working on that right now. They were some dropped lines in the first school performance this morning that we’re hoping to fix right now.”
As an audience member, I was oblivious to any mistakes or mishaps. I left the show impressed with the talent and prowess of Stage One. So it goes to figure whatever improvements they make will only transcend their show to a formidable level.
However they do today or possibly further on, Stage One makes Peabody proud.