Written and Directed by Regina Taylor
Adapted from book by Michael Cunningham
and Craig Marberry
at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
thru Aug 12 | tickets: $31-78 | more info
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Chicago’s got “Hattitude”!
Goodman Theatre presents
Review by Katy Walsh
I love hats! They serve as a fashion statement and cover up flawed hair. Until the late sixties, the Catholic Church required them at mass. So every Easter, my sisters and I would get to pick out a new outfit: dress + hat. I focused on the hat part because there were only ever a couple dress choices in Sears’ limited-chubby-girl section. But hats fit everyone. I could select from any of the pretty hats in the store. And, I always took special care to find *the one* that would make me feel most beautiful.
Goodman Theatre presents the all-new 10th anniversary production of Crowns. Yolanda lives in Chicago’s Englewood. She self-identifies with the edgy neighborhood. She expresses her pride in spoken word and street dancing. When her brother is murdered, she is sent to her grandma’s in South Carolina. Mother Shaw and her church-going ladies share their stories of sorrow and joy with her. Each tale is accompanied by the perfect hat for the life occasion. Initially, Yolanda resents the culture shock. Eventually, she finds solace and herself in the Southern rituals that link to her African heritage. Crowns wears many hats in this poignant journey to self discovery.
This show reminds me of Love, Loss and What I Wore (also starring the magnificent Felicia P. Fields). Women relate personal stories to an article of clothing. Crowns has that same humorous structure but the connection is deeper and more soul stirring. It’s not just about “here’s why this is my favorite hat.” It’s more about the crowning achievement that the hat symbolizes in ancestral history. Adapter and director Regina Taylor ensures the past is always present with a chorus dressed in earthy, colorful garb to contrast the dazzling sophistication of the church ladies (costume designer Karen Perry). Movement becomes part of the linkage from then-and-now and life-and-death. An exquisite Yusha-Marie Sorzano reinforces the verbal story with transfixing, flowing physicality. Choreographer Dianne McIntyre masterfully incorporates a broad spectrum of dance elements from tribal to tap to b-boxing. These aesthetic visuals pop on the wooden, sleek backdrop designed by Maruti Evans. The sides move in and out to frame the focal point. Visual projections by Maya Ciarrocchi take us to the urban essences of Englewood and later to the soothing waters of transformation. The imagery is gorgeous. So, that’s what Crowns looks like.
What does it sound like? It sounds like Jesus asked Regina Taylor to handpick a hallelujah chorus of biblical proportions. Can I get an amen? Chicago legends E. Faye Butler (Mabel) and Felicia P. Fields (Mother Shaw) anchor the show with their glorious diva melodies and their hilarious moxie. These ladies don’t just sing from the heart, they gloriously reverberate from deep within their souls. AMEN! Butler has a superb showstopper moment singing about being a preacher’s wife. The entire cast energetically sings and dances for a wondrous baptism by fire. In particular, Marketta P. Wilder (Yolanda) transforms from mourning to celebrating. Wilder powerfully expresses her rage and later her epiphany. The transition left me misty and full-hearted.
Crowns inspires with its upbeat spirituality, sisterhood solidarity and ‘hattitude.’ If I could sing like these women, I would don a hat and join their chorus. These crowns beckon to be worn by everybody and not just on Sunday.
Crowns continues through August 12th in Goodman’s Albert Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map), with performances Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Thursdays 2:30pm and 7:30pm, Fridays 8pm, Saturdays 2pm and 8pm, and Sundays 2pm and 7:30pm. Tickets are $31-$78, and are available by phone (312-443-3800) or through Goodman’s website (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at GoodmanTheatre.org. (Running time: 1 hour 50 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Liz Lauren
E. Faye Butler (Mabel); Felicia P. Fields (Mother Shaw); David Jennings (Man, Preacher); Jasondra Johnson (Velma); Alexis J. Rogers (Jeanette); Pauletta Washington (Wanda); Marketta P. Wilder (Yolanda); Yusha-Marie Sorzano (dance captain, ensemble); Shari Addison, Melanie Brezill, Kelvin Roston, Jr., Laura Walls (ensemble)