The Black Repertory: ‘Crowns’ deserves its diadem

Sabrina Spence | Contributing Writer

The Black Rep’s production of Regina Taylor’s “Crowns” dazzles from start to finish as the company’s 42nd season opener. The set is truly unique and unmistakably conveys the major symbol of the play—why? It takes place on a giant wooden hat. Atop this hat, the audience watches a young girl from New York navigate her faith as she is sent to live with her Southern grandmother after the death of her brother. There, she is exposed to the quintessential Southern black church and one of its important cultural characteristics—the church hat.

Wearing hats is a large part of black religious culture and is the central focus of the show as Yolanda, our main character, searches to find her own hat. Through conversations with four church ladies, including her grandmother, and another character known only as “the Man,” we learn more about the history of hats in the black community and their role in the development of each of the character’s lives, creating an intimacy reminiscent of sitting in the pews in a church.

The music heightens this inescapable feeling of Sunday mornings, some of which church-goers will recognize, as well as another other element of the set—massive hanging stained glass windows. While the set was simple, it made for a beautiful addition to the storyline.

Looking at the costumes, each church lady has her own color—either red, yellow, blue, purple or white, while “the Man’s” costume evolves throughout the show to fit the scene and his evolving role. Yolanda kept a youthful look dressed in black overalls, combat boots, social justice pins and a flannel, revealing a stark contrast between the traditional women of the church and the youth coming up behind them.

While it may seem that “Crowns” is a musical that only black church-goers or black people raised in the church would enjoy, that is not the case. On a Friday night, one Wash. U. student (myself) was surrounded by black people and older white people enjoying the show equally. It is not a show that requires a black Christian perspective. “Crowns” is a show that requires a human perspective. It requires you to be open to contemplation and to work to understand who you are and how you came to be that person. “Crowns” makes you re-travel the road you took that led you to sit in that chair, in that theater, on that night to watch that specific production. And it does it all through hats.

As students at an institution where “diversity, inclusion and equality” are so important, we should all be looking for experiences that challenge us and make us see the world differently. Make the Black Rep one of those experiences.

“Crowns” is running through Sept. 23rd and tickets are $15; so, you still have a chance to go see it. The Black Rep’s season will continue in January, picking up with “Canfield Drive,” a play centered around Ferguson and the Michael Brown shooting.

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