Her legs expertly crossed, a duchess who gave birth to a baby a week before sits down with a soon-to-be duchess a week before her wedding to dish out royal advice. Protocol on sitting, speech and shedding oneself to present as picture perfect are bestowed upon the newcomer.
Sounds like a summit between Kate Middleton and Meghan Markle? No, but the British monarchs are the inspiration for “Duchess! Duchess! Duchess!” a virtual play running at Steppenwolf Theatre. Playwright Vivian J.O. Barnes said an image of Kate waving in public with her new baby hours after giving birth perplexed her. Then, when Meghan and Prince Harry announced their engagement, the expectations for royal family members felt ripe for interrogation.
Barnes, who is Black, reimagines the two women in “Duchess! Duchess! Duchess!” as Black. Sydney Charles plays the seasoned duchess and Celeste M. Cooper, who is marrying into the family, foists a rules-of-the-royals handbook upon her. “We’re lucky to be here,” the coiffed duchess is fond of saying. The patina of a fairy tale wedding is tarnished for the younger woman once she understands that individuality perishes for the sake of the institution. “Duchess! Duchess! Duchess!” serves as a metaphor about Black women entering an establishment that isn’t built for them.
The timing of the production is uncanny because it coincides with Markle’s juicy sit-down television interview with Oprah in which Markle described the racism and…