From the red baseball cap worn by a 20-year-old gunned down in the streets of Englewood to the church bonnet worn by his grandmother in Darlington, South Carolina, each hat tells a story of joy and sorrow unique to its wearer in this musical inspired by a coffee-table book of portraits. Exploring the history of headdress in the black community, Regina Taylor’s 2004 piece is an enchanting summer diversion, even if the story is less than riveting.
After her brother’s death, aggressive young adult Yolanda (Marketta P. Wilder) is sent to live with her grandmother (Felicia P. Fields) in Darlington, where she struggles to give up her hip-hop rhythm for the melodic flow of gospel hymns. As Yolanda is exposed to the community’s tradition of hats, she begins to learn how a crown can make a woman feel like a queen. The show’s first half focuses on the hats rather than the conflict within Yolanda; the personal drama that comes later in the play would be better served at the start to establish her reluctance to adapt.
As the instructors of Yolanda’s crown boot camp, E. Faye Butler, Jasondra Johnson, Alexis J. Rogers and Pauletta Washington do stirring work with their introspective monologues and breathtaking musical numbers. It’s difficult to imagine Yolanda wouldn’t be captivated by their exuberant personalities and intricate hats, beautifully designed by Karen Perry. Despite the show’s structural flaws, when Darlington comes together in worship, Crowns is an inspiring experience.