Them Beaux is an upcoming Miami Theater Center play that touches on themes of sexual identity, racial issues, and gender equality. In other words, it’s a socially relevant tale — despite the fact that it takes place in America during the 1800s.
A period piece can be stressful to produce (the costumes, the dialogue, the sets, etc.), but playwright and director Joshua Jean-Baptiste sees the process as enjoyable. “[It’s] a delight. I’m a big fan of satire,” he says. “Putting topical issues in comedic situations makes us laugh and reflect at the same time.”
The issues the characters face in his latest original work are indeed spot-on for 2016. Baptiste worked on ways to bring those similarities — the most glaring being the upcoming presidential election — to the foreground.
“Since the show is set in the 1800s, I had a lot of room to explore the parallels between now and then,” the playwright explains, “especially with the elections coming up and how marginalized people get the short end of the stick due to the rhetoric of demagoguery."
While writing, Baptiste says, he was inspired mainly by recent news stories. “In the past year, this country has gone through some changes. With the internet playing more and more of a role in how we view the world, people are asking a lot more questions and acting out on the notion of inequality.
"Whether income-based, race-based, or gender-based, the status quo is cracking and is bound to fold if those who are marginalized continue to be oppressed. People coming together has proven to be the best way to provoke change.”
As a Miami local, Baptiste attended New World School of the Arts. There, he encountered the seed of inspiration that would later bloom. He performed in an adaptation of The Beaux Stratagem during his senior year of college. “I couldn't help but discover the similarities the show had with elements of the Deep South — the mannerisms and the outlandish behavior. The idea stuck with me for quite some time.”
Once Jean-Baptiste was given a chance to create Them Beaux by the Miami Theater Center (where he is a Sandbox Series artist), he jumped at the opportunity.
“When submissions for the Sandbox Series rolled around, I immediately took action and pitched the show,” he says. “I've written one previous play for the Sandbox and was honored that MTC took my team again. One year later, I finished writing it and began production in early April.”
But what in hell is this play about? Simply, it's an interpretation of a story of love and deception. Jean-Baptiste explains, “Long ago — and in some cases today — marrying a woman and inheriting her fortune was the way society worked. Them Beaux follows Jackie and Tom, two up-and-coming con men from pre-Civil War New York. They learn that this arcane practice of marriage is rampant in the South. Naturally, they take advantage of the status quo.”
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The play’s rehearsals have been running smoothly, Jean-Baptiste says, because of the talented cast and crew. “I'm surrounded by an ensemble of actors who fit into their roles like a glove,” he says happily. “The set construction has bloomed into life thanks to the genius of Mike Engelmann. Coupled with the artfully curated costumes designed by India Davison, this show creates a traditional feel with a modern twist.”
The director hopes that audiences will take away some wisdom from his heavy dose of satire. He hopes viewers will enjoy the company of diverse people while laughing about sensitive topics. “Art reflects life, and questioning the norms that we set ourselves is what the story is really about.
“Whether it's confronting family traditions or community taboos, at the end of the day, no self-imposed value should get in the way of being human.”
Friday, April 29, through Friday, May 13, at the Miami Theater Center. For showtimes and tickets, visit mtcmiami.org.