Now playing a limited engagement through April 23, at Theater for the New City, Martin’s Truth, the latest play by Victor Vauban Júnior, who also directs, follows the compelling Summer 2021 production of his profound family drama Leaves at TNC, an organization founded in 1970, and dedicated to accessible cultural dialogue and community empowerment.
A former circus performer turned award-winning playwright (The New York Theater Festival; The Strawberry Theater Festival), the Brazilian-born NYC-based Vauban began writing in 2013, under the tutelage of Mario Giacalone in the Writers in Performance program at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. In his current work, Vauban addresses the pressing issues of the mass incarceration of people of color in the US and the importance of family and mental health through the stories of three Black men neglected by society, who are at the “end of their hopes” and begin an introspective journey, reflecting on their personal dramas and life decisions. They’re all seen in the context of the historical events that changed and impacted the African American community and the country, set against the background of a world scarred by the deaths of George Floyd, Philando Castile, Travon Martin, Breonna Taylor and, most recently, Tyre Nichols in Memphis, Tennessee.
Victor graciously made time in his busy schedule to answer my questions about the show and its timely message.
What inspired you to write Martin’s Truth?
Victor: Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.” And that’s the nature of the inspiration for all of my plays. It stems from fear; fear of the violence that plagues our society, fear of mental illness proliferating in our community at alarming rates, fear of mass incarceration of people of color, fear of the lack of humanity, fear of police brutality, fear of segregation, and the fear of the revocation of civil rights. As a playwright, I feel very inspired by the words of the late Nina Simone: “An artist’s duty is to reflect the times.” And I have taken those words as my mission.
When and where is the play set?
The play takes place in two different sets in American history, or maybe it’s better to say in two different universes. Part one begins with an imaginable scenario: How African Americans would be placed in today’s society if they hadn’t been denied the right of citizenship in the 1800s, after the period known as the Reconstruction Era, when they earned the right to vote and had elected officials working successfully at both the Federal and State levels. Let’s imagine an America after the 13th Amendment being passed, where civil rights were accepted, where Black and white were living peacefully, supporting one another, where all were treated equally, being productive, happy, honorable citizens, and how they’d be today. The second part paints a more realistic view depicting the ramifications of the painful consequences of such laws as ‘Jim Crow’ in America and the world.
Are your characters based in part on real-life people?
All characters are fictional. None of my writings include real people. During my writing I think a lot about the ancestors who did not survive the Middle Passage – the stage of the Atlantic slave trade in which millions of enslaved Africans were transported to the Americas as part of the Triangle Trade – and those who survived. I may say that I got some inspiration from former American presidents, in particular former president Barack Obama and the possibility of him not being the first black president if African American ancestors hadn’t been denied their rights. The play presents characters named Mr. Washington (Ben Rowe), Mr. Adams (Khalfani Louis), Mr. Jefferson (Colin Pieters and Kevin Leo’Nard), Mr. Madison (Desmond J. Long), Mr. Tyler (Clarence J. Comfort), and Ms. Shirley (Lola Lukas), an allusion to Shirley Chisholm, the first African American to seek the nomination for president of the United States from one of the two major political parties in 1972.
What do you hope audiences take away from the show?
From the moment I start a new project, I always aim to tell the truth through fiction – a real story that will make people rethink their attitudes and their ways of acting. As a creative artist, I hope the audience is able to encounter uncomfortable questions and seek reasonable answers within themselves and begin to reflect on the consequences of their actions and their responses for the betterment of our society. This production is dedicated to our ancestors and future generations; I hope to see you in the audience someday.
What do you appreciate most about working with Theater for the New City, the cast, and creative team?
I am so grateful to have the support of an institution that values theater as much as I do. Crystal Field (Executive Artistic Director) and Emily Pezzella (Executive Assistant and Volunteer Coordinator) make the magic happen at TNC. I usually say that theater was always my drug of choice, my body and soul are possessed and urge for this millennial art every minute of the day. The opportunity of working alongside like-minded professionals sharing the same passion is priceless. I can’t thank my dedicated cast and production team enough: Ben Rowe, Kevin Leonard, Khalfani Louis, Desmond J. Long, Nina Jackson, Yesenia Ortiz, Douglas Walker, Colin Pieters, Yesenia Ortiz, Nina Jackson, Clarence J. Comfort, Doug Walker, Lola Walker; set designer Lytza Colon, light and sound designers and operators Alexander Bartenieff, Geoffrey Christopher, and Dayvis Ferreras, and the overly talented associate producer Everett Clark. I couldn’t have done this production without them and the support of friends such as Mary Tierney, Richard E. Peltzer III, Franz Reynold, Robert Williams, Lola Saenz, Nick Garr, and many more.
Thank you, Victor, for giving our readers the background of your extremely relevant new play. Wishing you much continued success with this and your other important works, both past and future.
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, without intermission.
Martin’s Truth plays through Sunday, April 23, 2023, at Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, NYC. For tickets (priced at $18 adults, $15 seniors and students, plus fees), call (212) 254-1109, or go online. Masks are no longer required but are recommended.