Cozy and warmhearted drama connects ‘Shutter Sisters’ at 1st Stage

Deidra LaWan Starnes and Tonya Beckman take star turns playing women whose narratives unfold parallel to one another.

Shutter Sisters has its DC-area premiere at 1st Stage in Tysons with its stars, Deidra LaWan Starnes and Tonya Beckman, making the most of this cozy, warmhearted drama.

The 90-minute play by Mansa Ra was originally commissioned for San Diego’s Old Globe Theater’s New Voices Festival. It had its world premiere on that stage in 2021.

LEFT: Tonya Beckman as Michael; RIGHT: Deidra LaWan Starnes as Mykal, in ‘Shutter Sisters.’ Photos by Teresa Castracane.

Director Eric Ruffin, who also coordinates the Acting program for the Howard University Theatre Arts Department, fluidly directs a play that calls for a Black and a white actor whose stories are not connected, at first, but whose narratives unfold parallel to one another.

The play is built on the characters’ commonalities, from their names — Mykal (Starnes) and Michael (Beckman) to their status as adopted children, to working at a Shirley’s Shutters store in their city, and to both being at pivotal points in their lives, one from a good thing — a big promotion — and the other from grief — the death of her mother. Starnes and Beckman play their moments, especially their monologues, with grace and passion — and turn what at times feels like thin drama into bright big moments of insight and depth.

After evocative opening addresses to the audience, where the fourth wall breaks down, the play turns to these women’s everyday lives — it’s funny and thoughtful; however, it only gently skims the surface of big questions, of motherhood, grief, sexism, and racism. What the play lacks in depth is compensated by these two performers each taking star turns in their roles.

Essentially, Shutter Sisters is a play about fateful connections. It’s about coming together, not apart. Perhaps, it’s a statement that’s needed in contrast to the many about our divided country, or perhaps, that’s just a DC-area lens.

Tonya Beckman as Michael and Deidra LaWan Starnes as Mykal in ‘Shutter Sisters.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane.

The set design by scenic designer Kathryn Kawecki and the property design by Pauline Lamb are particularly imbued with beautiful metaphorical touches — boxes are stacked at all levels, and the characters pack and unpack memories — a tree-like form, bound in ropes, reflects the roots and connections in the Tree of Life we all share. Lighting by Adam Mendelson and sound design by David Lamont Wilson enhance the metaphor even more, easing us closer to these two women as they draw toward to one another.

With the 1st Stage production of Shutter Sisters, connections will be found: a happy ending and a cozy, warm play for a cold winter night.

Running Time: 90 minutes, no intermission.

Shutter Sisters plays through February 18, 2024, at 1st Stage, located at 1524 Spring Hill Road, Tysons, VA. Tickets are $55 for general admission and are available for purchase by calling the box office at 703-854-1856, going online, or in person before each performance. Limited numbers of seats are offered at $25 and $35 for each performance. Open seating.

The program for Shutter Sisters is online here.

COVID Safety: 1st Stage is now a mask-optional space with select mask-required performances offered for each show (for Shutter Sisters, February 10 at 7:30pm). See 1st Stage’s complete COVID Safety Information here.


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