“I can remember how they looked, but I can never remember anything I’ve heard them say,” she says.
Reflecting on those missing words — and on Meghan’s experience as a biracial woman joining a hidebound, traditionally White institution — Barnes wrote “Duchess! Duchess! Duchess!,” a short play that imagines a private conversation between a Black royal and a Black royal-to-be. The play, which was filmed in a no-contact shoot by Chicago’s renowned Steppenwolf Theatre Company, begins streaming Wednesday at steppenwolf.org/now, the Steppenwolf Now virtual stage.
Its paparazzi-lens inspirations notwithstanding, “Duchess! Duchess! Duchess!” is no piece of gossipy fluff. For one thing, the characters are not Kate and Meghan, but fictional figures. For another, the play speaks to deep issues around inclusion, equity and society’s resistance to change.
“It’s a relatable investigation into how many women feel high up in institutions, specifically if you are in a historically White institution as a Black woman,” says Weyni Mengesha, the show’s director and artistic director of Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company.
Awareness of Meghan’s significance for the British monarchy infused the play, Barnes says. “To see this person — who looks like no one else who’s been in that institution so far — enter it, that to me is a fascinating story and entry point,” the playwright says.
Barnes, 26, caught the performing-arts bug during the lively,…