Swamp Baby is a timely and poetic allegory of xenophobia | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

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Swamp Baby is a timely and poetic allegory of xenophobia

The actors bring dignity and humanity to this tall tale about a freak show.

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An advertisement allegedly produced by Aeromexico recently went viral offering a discount proportional to the percentage of Mexican heritage its American customers could demonstrate. In the video, tequila-loving, burrito-eating 'Murrikans aren't sure if they are winning or getting a booby prize for the (spoiler!) Mexican blood found flowing through their pale, pale veins. This is only funny because the same xenophobia that conceived of the one-drop rule hasn't been bred or bled out yet.

Aaron Carter's Swamp Baby, premiering at MPAACT under the direction of Lauren "LL" Lundy, is a poetic allegory that reflects the lust for the exotic and the fear of contamination that characterizes the idea of miscegenation. Green-skinned orphan teenager Swamp Baby (Myesha-Tiara) grew up in the saddest little freak show in the south: just her, Sylphe the "armless wonder" (Stephanie Mattos), and their abusive, greasy-haired handler Armand Aubigny (Rory Zacher). Aubigny is former plantation aristocracy and dreams of reclaiming fame and wealth as an impresario-anthropologist-naturalist at the 1904 World's Fair. Swamp Baby fantasizes about a mysterious woman named Desirée (Destiny Strothers) who sometimes sings to her in visions. A doctor (Rob Frankel) arrives to examine her, but he mostly works with a crystal ball, so never mind about science. This could be one terrible tall tale, except the beautiful language of the play is so expertly handled by the cast, especially Mattos and Strothers, who bring out the dignity and humanity in their characters. Where these two shine, so does Swamp Baby.   v

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