Sunday, July 12, 2009

review - Crowns

written by Regina Taylor
directed by Israel Hicks
Pasadena Playhouse
through August 16
Being the son of a lady who always wore a hat, even when she was not in church, it is quite easy for me, even though I was not born black, to derive pleasure and inner fulfillment from Crowns. This is a terribly funny piece with some uniquely stylized dramatic moments and with some of the most unforgettable gospel tunes ever written.
I know it is perhaps politically incorrect to refer to Crowns as a black musical. Black artists like to be thought of as artists, period. And well, they should. But, since the whole substance of the play is grounded in black culture and finding one's place within it, I am not quite sure that a similar play done by white women would bear the same effect. If you were born black, you will understand this play deeply. If you were not, you will come to appreciate it as a piece that reverberates the joy of living quite unlike any other. No one sings "His Eye is On the Sparrow" quite like a black gospel singer. I remember Ethel Waters' indelible rendition of it in The Member of the Wedding, but Sharon Catherine Blanks' sharing of it as Velma in Crowns is so amazing, it tore me to pieces.
Yolanda (Angela Wildflower Polk), a Brooklyn teenager, loses her brother to gang violence and moves south to be with her grandmother (Paula Kelly). She gradually learns to look inside and to truly love herself and her heritage. Polk has an astonishing vocal range. Kelly is mesmerizingly beautiful. With the figure of a twenty-year old dancer, her presence onstage is consistently commanding. Her life ballet with Clinton Derricks-Carroll as her husband - from marriage to his death - literally stops the show with its simplistic and undying conviction.
Other sterling performances under Israel Hicks' great direction emanate from Ann Weldon, so terribly funny "Git your hand off my hat!" and touching at the funeral of her father, from Vanessa Bell Calloway as Jeanette and from Suzanne Douglas as Wanda.
You will leave the theatre with hattitude, remembering the humorous elements: "I'd sell my children before I'd lend my hat!" or a husband's objections to his wife having too many hats - "You don't have but one head!" - and the serious side: "It took the Civil Rights Movement to get those hats off our heads!" or Mother Shaw's (Kelly) heartfelt determination to have a stylish hat and sacrificing every penny she had to own it.
Hats represent status, as they reveal or conceal. They are also crowns, as the women that wear them are queens. My mother, in her own way, was a queen. And queens one day "Walk All Over God's Heaven".
What a spiritual rush!
5 out of 5 stars


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