Sunday, June 26

Duchess! Duchess! Duchess! Review – Meghan inspires explosive drama | Theater

IIt’s tempting to assume that an American drama about black women trapped in the cold and harsh machinery of the British monarchy is a direct response to Meghan’s revelations to Oprah Winfrey earlier this week.

But the theater can’t move that fast and while Vivian JO Barnes’s two-handed was inspired by the Duchesses of Sussex and Cambridge, she conceived it in 2018 and was filmed by the Steppenwolf Theater late last year.

The marketing gods, however, could not have aligned the stars for greater impact for the digital premiere of a play billed as “a darker version of what might have happened if Meghan Markle had stayed.” That line points toward the surreal, satirical, and incrementally creepy tone of this 35-minute dualogue.

Hosted as a tea-time meeting between the Duchess (Sydney Charles) and the future Duchess (Celeste M Cooper), and led by Weyni Mengesha, the couple’s exchanges appear deliberately stiff and take on sinister overtones culminating in the grotesque act of the final moments. The Duchess is already grounded in the ways of the institution and in the performance of royal duties and has recently given birth (“I’m leaking”). He will meet with the future Duchess to educate her on palace protocols for women, and black women, entering royalty.

Watch an interview with playwright Vivian JO Barnes

The Duchess looks more like an automaton than a human: a regal version of a Stepford wife, lobotomized by institutional protocols, though sad vestiges of her former self remain.

“Pretend you’re not here,” is her advice in case of being surrounded by paparazzi. “Tell yourself … ‘They’re not doing this to me.’ The future duchess, on the other hand, has bright eyes and is full of character. She hopes to tear down the frozen traditions of the palace, though we begin to wonder how long it will take for her vivacity to be leached or forcibly extracted. The actors add disturbing little flourishes to their performances and even when the script loses its subtlety, a greater sense of confusion and dread remains.

The Duchess reads aloud a memorandum from the palace ordering her never to wear green because it doesn’t “suit her.” Another has cheeky suggestions of colorism that says you should strive to behave in a way that is “a little less cocoa” and “more beige.” The future Duchess admits that she does not know how to bow and wants to skip the formal gesture, but is told that she must at all times, even in such an informal gathering. These moments of satire acquire almost incredible foreknowledge in their criticisms of race and female submission in relation to the British monarchy.

Of course, it’s all just fiction, but it could be seen as a kind of indicator of how Americans perceived the British royal family long before Meghan’s revelations. The drama is the fourth in the six-part virtual programming series Steppenwolf Now, bringing together a variety of dramatic forms and genres, from a gripping two-part soap opera, Wally World, set in a department store and written by Isaac Gomez. , to a carefully distressed animation, Red Folder, written, directed and illustrated by Rajiv Joseph. The series, performed by the Chicago Theater Ensemble, is worth watching, and not just for its explosive latest installment.

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