KPBS AIRDATE: October 08, 2004
You think crowns are only for kings and queens? Well, when you put on a show-stopping chapeau, you feel like royalty. And among African American women, those crowning glories are a way to honor the past, rise above the present and show hope in the future. It’s a matter of pride and devotion — and it requires what they call “hattitude.”
The flamboyant hats could almost steal the show in “Crowns,” a soulful, roof-raising gospel celebration of strong black women and their inimitable, personality-defining headgear. But the stellar cast at the San Diego Rep is so vocally gifted, so cohesive and convincing, that no one steals their thunder. Except maybe the backup music-makers who help create it — musical director e’Marcus Harper and knockout percussionist Danny King.
Actor/writer Regina Taylor based her show on the photo-essay coffeetable book, “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats.” She weaves through these testimonials and “hat-queen rules” a slight story about a tough, young hip-hop girl from Brooklyn who’s still reeling from the gang-murder of her beloved brother. To take her away from bad memories and even worse cohorts, her mother sends her to her Grandma in South Carolina, to find herself and her history. Mother Shaw and her spirited, church-going friends tell Yolanda tales of their husbands and their hats, their fathers, failures, triumphs, faith and fashion. And through these poignant narratives, punctuated by spectacular renditions of traditional spirituals, gospel songs, jazz, blues and skat, they help the young girl to heal — and to embrace her heritage. She learns to wear her own crown of honor and understanding.
The ensemble is outstanding — powerful separately and together — from the talented, rapping young Monica Quintanilla as Yolanda to the dignified Peggy Blow as Mother Shaw. As her scintillating circle of friends, Karole Foreman, Lisa Payton, Valerie Payton and Charyn Cannon bring down the house. And with his sassy strut and beautiful baritone, Ron McCall nimbly plays the men in their lives.
The design work is wonderful, from the sets, sound and costumes to the dramatic, high-toned lighting. Director-choreographer Patdro Harris keeps the rousing, intermissionless evening moving in every sense. It’s an uplifting, inspiring, toe-tapping, foot-stomping theatrical event that celebrates faith and spirit and style. So put on some headgear — or buy some in the lobby! — and head for the Rep!
©2004 Patté Productions Inc.