Also see Tracy's review of A Christmas Carol
Have you ever seen a show that makes you want to go to the box office and buy tickets for all your friends? Crowns is one of those shows. Now playing at Arena Stage, Crowns is a lively and moving portrait of African-American women and how they define themselves through the hats they wear.
However, this show is about more than just hats. It is about women and their sense of family, religion and self worth. The hats serve as a reminder of important moments in these women’s lives. Their tales are familiar no matter what one claims as their cultural background. In the telling of these stories, the women become regal “hat queens” - earning the crowns they wear on their heads.
The show is based on the Michael Cunningham / Craig Marberry book, “Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats,” and was recreated for the stage by Regina Taylor. Many may know Taylor from her numerous stage and screen acting credits, most notably as Lilly on the television series, “I’ll Fly Away.” However, Taylor is an experienced writer and in this production, serving not only as playwright, but also as director.
Taylor proves to be an excellent director. She does not guide this production with a heavy hand. Instead, she knows exactly when to present a strong impression and more importantly, when to pull back. She is joined by choreographer Dianne McIntyre - and her lively steps couldn’t be more perfect for the piece.
The cast is just as well suited. All of the actors have superb vocal abilities and bring unique qualities to their characters. Desiré DuBose reveals many layers as the troubled Yolanda. As Mother Shaw, her wise grandmother, Tina Fabrique radiates warmth. However, she keeps the character interesting by being just a bit feisty. Gail Grate is refined as Wanda and Karan Kendrick brings a sense of fun to Jeanette.
Lynda Gravátt is outstanding as Mabel. This is a woman who knows how to move. Her cast mate, Bernardine Mitchell (pictured at right), can only be described as fierce. As Velma, she is energetic and entertaining. More than once she manages to steal the spotlight and that is pretty hard to do with this group.
The only male in the group is John Steven Crowley (Preacher/Man). Crowley has an easy step and a soulful voice that blends well with the rest of the cast.
The set design by Riccardo Hernández is nothing more than a stage that is almost bare with two hat-filled towers flanking either side. Even though it is simple, it makes an impact. Emilio Sosa has designed some wonderful costumes and hats. However, he definitely could have taken a hint from some of the “hat queens” in the audience.
So, if you are looking to acquire some “hattitude”, Arena Stage is the place to be. Don’t be surprised if you leave the theater humming. Crowns runs at Arena Stage through February 15th.
Arena Stage - The Kreeger Theatre
Preacher/Man: John Steven Crowley