Reel Theater | Crowns Review

5 04 2009

After a successful run several years ago, the retooled production of playwright Regina Taylor’s musical, “Crowns” triumphantly returns with a feet-stomping ensemble. This rousing mix of spirituality, history and “hatitude” soars!

Based on the book, “Crowns” by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, the story centers on a young Brooklynite, Yolanda (Zurin Villanueva), who is sent to the south to live with her grandmother, Mother Shaw (E. Faye Butler) after her 18-year old brother is shot to death. Initially she feels like an alien in the genteel south, but over the course of the evening, Mother Shaw and an ultra-talented cast help her connect her grief and struggle to that of African-Americans over several generations.

To watch clips of the show and interviews with the cast, click the image above

While the production is primarily about the glorious and magnificent hats that adorn the heads of the ladies the subtext of the production is the inspirational role that the Black church has had on people of African descent. The only place that former slaves could congregate with one another, the hats became an early symbol for Black women to express their unique style and individuality.

Taylor’s endearing script feels infused with a mixture of effective research and her own personal recollections as we are introduced to a bevy of proud Black people who tell their stories – always with a connection to those fabulous hats.

There is the dying father who just wants to see his baby in his favorite hat because she looks “just like her mother or the defiant woman who spent money she didn’t have to buy a hat in a formerly all-White department store. Many of the women in the stories has over 200 different hats in their collections remarking one perplexed husband to respond, “you only have ONE head!”

But the musical is just a history lesson but takes on the feel of old-time revival meeting. Music director e’Marcus Harper includes many popular gospel songs throughout the production that are sung by the amazing cast including the soulful Butler, sugary-smooth Phillip Boykin and Kara-Tameika Watkins whose version of “His Eyes Are on the Sparrow” almost brought a tear to my eye and stirred my soul! Mary Millben, NaTasha Yvette Williams and newcomer Villanueva also provided solid support.

While we can’t recall Taylor’s original production at the Arena Stage, this latest version as the more spacious Lincoln Theater clearly works better. Whether it’s the additional space or clever staging, the musical feels like it has more depth and texture. For many people who have never worshipped or fellow-shipped in the Black church, this play is about the closest experience one can have without showing up on Sunday.

Featuring no intermission, “Crowns” has few wasted moments. Taylor’s play is a soul-stirring magical journey that will touch spirit as well as soul. The play is a tribute to a legion of special women who gained their sense of self the moment they adorned their heads. As one woman sang, “I want my crown,” you’ll not only want to give it to her  . . . but a hearty applause as well!

Grade: A

“Crowns” is currently playing at the Arena Stage at the Lincoln Theater, March 27 through April 26. To purchase tickets, click here.




2 responses

10 04 2009
tanya washington

I plan to see this on the 18th of April.

30 09 2009
stanley walker

I am trying to find out if play will be returning to the east coast.

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