Old Globe’s ‘Shutter Sisters’ to look at mothers, daughters, race and identity
Mansa Ra’s world premiere play had a reading last year in the Globe’s Powers New Voices Festival
Back in January 2020, the Old Globe presented a reading of Mansa Ra’s race relations-themed play “Shutter Sisters” at its annual Powers New Voices Festival.
In the 21 months since, a lot has changed. First came the pandemic, which shut down theaters nationwide. Then, a national reckoning on race was sparked by the murder of George Floyd. Playwright Ra said his life, livelihood and psyche were all deeply affected by these events. As a result, both he and “Shutter Sisters” — which returned to the Old Globe Thursday, Oct. 7, in a world premiere production in the Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre — have evolved.
Before the pandemic, Ra was writing stage plays and scripts for television under his birth name Jireh Bréon Holder. To overcome the darkness he was struggling with last year, he decided to give himself a new name, which is a tradition in his family. “Mansa,” his new first name, was inspired by a personal hero, the 14th-century Malian leader Mansa Musa, who was known for his wealth and benevolence. Ra was the ancient Egyptian god of the sun, which gives a bright new start to every day.
“I’m so different from the person I was prior to the pandemic,” Ra said. “It took a whole identity overhaul for me to psychologically survive quarantine and emotionally survive another round of slain Black Americans. Ultimately it was about understanding that the world is very, very different now.”
Based on these experiences, Ra also decided to rewrite the ending to “Shutter Sisters” for this month’s premiere because some of the issues the original script dealt with have already been tackled in the public space since January 2020.
“It’s about a Black woman and a White woman who are middle-aged beginning of a new chapter. At first I think it was pitched as a racial reckoning thing that San Diegans might be able to get into a meaty racial dialogue about. Fortunately, we had that dialogue, and so San Diegans get to be a part of a conversation that gets to go a step further.”
“Shutter Sisters” tells the story of two women living parallel lives on the hardest days of their lives. A White woman named Michael attends her adopted mother’s funeral, while a Black woman named Mykal kicks her adult daughter out of her home. San Diego actor Shana Wride, who Ra calls “an extraordinary person, a muse and a fierce actor” plays Michael. Broadway veteran Terry Burrell, who Ra said is a good friend who has been with the project since the idea stage, plays Mykal. They play is directed by Donya K. Washington in her Globe debut.
Raised in Memphis, Tenn., and now based in Atlanta, Ra is a 2016 graduate of the Yale School of Drama and the co-founder of Pyramid Theatre Company in Des Moines, Iowa. His plays, including “Too Heavy for Your Pocket,” touch on issues of social justice, human rights and the Black and gay male experiences. He is now working on four different plays, but he said “Shutter Sisters” is his favorite.
“It’s a smaller two-hander (a play with two actors) about meeting your neighbors and really spending time with who is across the street from you,” he said. “We don’t do that enough. In ‘Shutter Sisters’ I imagine what happens if you realized your Black neighbor, White neighbor or ‘othered’ neighbor is a reflection of yourself.”
Ra said that because so much of the time since March 2020 has been bleak, he wants audiences to know that “Shutter Sisters” is an uplifting one, not a dark one.
“None of my plays mention COVID,” he said. “If you want to experience a story that talks to the heart of the human experience, that’s what you’re in for. It’s one of those pieces you and your girlfriends can go to and have a great time.”
When: Opened Oct. 7 and runs through Nov. 7. Showtimes, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays; 7 p.m. Sundays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
COVID policy: Full vaccination is required or negative COVID-19 PCR test is required within 72 hours of curtain. Masks are required.
Where: Sheryl and Harvey White Theatre, The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way, Balboa Park
Phone: (619) 234-5623
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