“Shutter Sisters” follows the lives of two seemingly-unrelated women in their fifties. Written by Mansa Ra, this regional premiere at 1st Stage charts the women’s stories as each approaches an important milestone in her life. Mykal, played by Deidra Lawan Starnes, is eager to start the next chapter of her life while contending with the neediness of her adult daughter. Michael, played by Tonya Beckman, struggles to find answers after her adoptive mother’s death. Mykal is Black, and Michael is White. They haven’t met, but their lives seem to unfold in parallel—they share a name, they work at different branches of the same shutter company, and they are both adoptees. As they unpack their lives for the audience (and each other) to see, they find surprising moments of connection.
…Eric Ruffin’s beautiful direction [of]…This intimate play about connection where it’s least expected is well worth seeing…
As Mykal, Deirdra Lawan Starnes’ vivacity permeates the stage. Her enthusiasm for her life and for the future, coupled with her lack of interest in her origins and close connection with her adoptive parents, signals that, despite the many hurdles she’s faced, Mykal is living the life she was meant to lead. Beckman’s Michael provides the perfect foil to her counterpart. Reserved, dry-witted, and serious even before the news of her mother’s death, Michael’s grief causes her to embark on a crusade to uncover secrets from her past. Beckman portrays her as serious enough to believe in her own mission without the awareness of its effect on others—both well-meaning and a prime example of how White women center themselves in the stories of people of color.
Under Eric Ruffin’s beautiful direction, the women tell their stories—sometimes avidly watching and reacting to the other’s experience, sometimes looking past each other or missing the other’s revelations altogether. Despite not speaking to each other for most of the show, the women feed off each other’s presence, inviting the other to witness her story—and by extension, inviting the audience into the intimate space they (at times, unknowingly) share.
Kathryn Kawecki’s scenic design elegantly reinforces the unlikely but deep connections between the two women. The set is both Mykal’s apartment and the liminal space where each woman shares her story. As Mykal is in the process of moving, the set is filled with cardboard boxes and a network of roots burrowing through the set that grow into a tree that stretches across the back of the stage. As an adoptee myself, I appreciated the set’s connection to these women’s origins. The root system of an adoptee’s family tree can be thorny and complex. So much of their lives’ important details are in boxes, forgotten in attics or locked away by shuttered adoption agencies or inaccessible due to the complex bureaucracy around the adoptees’ personal information. Adam Mendelson’s lighting design and David Lamont Wilson’s sound design round out the world of Kawecki’s vision, while Lynly A. Saunders’ costume design helps to immediately establish each woman’s personality—especially underneath their matching Shutter Sisters’ blazers.
This intimate play about connection where it’s least expected is well worth seeing—be sure to catch it before it shutters on February 18!
Running Time: One hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
“Shutter Sisters” runs through February 18, 2024 at 1st Stage, 1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA 22102. For more information and to purchase tickets, go online.