Crowns,” a production of the African American Repertory Theatre and the Barksdale Theatre, is an inspirational montage of monologues and music about African-American women and hats. Written by Regina Taylor and adapted from a book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, the play explores the cultural, social and religious meanings of hats through six characters who serve as composites of 50 women interviewed for the book.
De'Shionay Adkins plays Yolanda, a teenager from Brooklyn who's sent South to her grandmother's to heal from the murder of her beloved older brother. Yolanda is transformed while she travels through the stories and rituals of the five other female characters centered on churchgoing life. J. Ron Flemming as the Man rounds out the cast, standing in for every male needed to illustrate the women's stories.
The power of “Crowns” is how it draws the audience into these stories through hand-clapping, foot-stomping gospel music. Margarette Joyner, Katherine Louis, Desiree Roots Centeio, Shalimar Hickman Fields and Rose Watson have voices that could raise the rafters anywhere. Throughout the show, audience members responded with “um-hmms,” singing and swaying in their seats.
The monologues vary in depth, from rules for wearing hats to stories of personal triumph and loss. And they're delivered with enthusiasm and panache. Part of grasping the importance of headgear to these women is that you better understand the struggles and mores attached to them — such as earning the money to purchase a hat, the right to shop in any store and the tradition of respect shown by covering one's head and dressing to meet “the king.” The audience is treated to a soulful walk in these ladies' shoes — or to be more precise, under their hats. The result is an unforgettable, uplifting theater experience.
“Crowns” plays at CenterStage on selected dates through May 29 then moves to the Barksdale Theatre at Willow Lawn from June 4-27. Tickets $30-$40. Call 282-2620 for information or go to barksdalerichmond.org.