In October, Samantha Tirrell DRA ’20 proposed a production of “It’s Not About My Mother” to the board of the Yale Cabaret. A first-time director, she had two weeks to prepare the two-actor play. But Tirrell, a second-year stage management student at the School of Drama, was up to the challenge.

Set to open this Thursday at the Yale Cabaret, “It’s Not About My Mother” tells the story of two half sisters who return home to sort through the belongings of their deceased mother. The play, written by Boston-based actor and writer Lizzie Milanovich, follows the women as they begin to unpack both the physical boxes in their mother’s basement as well as their nuanced memories of the woman who raised them.

“I hope that people can see some of themselves in the show,” Tirrell said. “Everyone has a mother, that’s just part of life.”

The two characters in “It’s Not About My Mother” will be played by best friends Kineta Kunutu DRA ’19 and Amandla Jahava DRA ’19. This is the pair’s fourth time acting together in a Yale Cabaret show.

The play was written for two women of different races, but Tirrell decided to cast two black women to play the characters. Tirrell said she thought this would raise the stakes of the play’s narrative by allowing uncertainty in the half sister relationship. She also wanted to cast Kunutu and Jahava because of their chemistry both on and off the stage.

“We’re really close and we’re really good friends and it rarely happens in the School of Drama that you get to play sisters with someone you already consider your sister,” Jahava said.

The show is both actors’ first time acting in a “two-hander,” or a play with only two actors. Jahava said she was excited to try this artistic challenge in her third year at the School of Drama, hoping to see all of her academic work pay off.

“It’s Not About My Mother” will be the seventh show of the Yale Cabaret’s 51st season. The Cabaret, affectionately known as “the Cab,” is a performance space run by and for students at the Yale School of Drama. According to Tirrell, the Cab is an “artistic safe haven” and allows School of Drama students to take artistic risks and explore areas outside their academic concentrations.

Each year, two Master of Fine Arts students are elected to oversee the Cab’s season. LT Gourzong DRA ’19 and Molly FitzMaurice DRA ’19 are the Cab’s current artistic directors. As students studying technical design & production and dramaturgy respectively, Gourzong and FitzMaurice bring diverse perspectives to the Cab’s administration. This season will feature 18 plays.

“We’re embracing the idea of discovering yourself,” Gourzong said. “I’m really excited about the use of space in this show and the use of the physical space of the cab and how they manipulated it for the storytelling.”

Tirrell noted that the play itself is set in a basement — which is also the location of the Cabaret space. This, she said, has helped the crew to connect with the meaning of the script.

The production processes of Yale Cabaret shows vary in length. The cast and crew of “It’s Not About My Mother” had only two weeks to rehearse because Tirrell, Kunutu and Jahava were all in the recent production of “shakespeare’s as u like it,” which closed on Oct. 27. Tirrell said that the time constraint was the most difficult aspect of the directing process.

“The performances are still part of the process,” said Kunutu. “It’s like an invited rehearsal.”

Performances of “It’s Not About My Mother” will be held in the Yale Cabaret on Thursday, Nov. 15, at 8 p.m. and on Friday, Nov. 16, and Saturday, Nov. 17, at 8 and 11 p.m.

Lindsay Daugherty |