When Chicago-born Yolanda is sent down South after the death of her brother, she finds strength in the tales of the wise women who surround her—and the powerful rituals connected to their dazzling hats.
I purchased my tickets to crowns with great anticipation. Upon hearing that Crowns was returning to Chicago, I recalled the excitement from women in my office who attended the performance last year. To be honest, I was hesitant because the play itself is structured around gospel music. Gospel can be beautiful but it can also be overwhelming for me. Utimately, I decided to be adventurous and give it a chance.
WHERE ARE THE CROWNS?
For days leading up to the event, I fantasized about arriving at the Goodman to see groups of women in glorious hats. Some sassy, some elegant and others understated. I was greatly disappointed. There were only a few women wearing hats but I did take pictures of a few. I can’t judge too harshly because I forgot mine at home as well. Later that night when I showed my husband the hat I intended to wear, I was greeted with silence. I admit it was not my style and kudos to Bert for saying so much with his eyes. You know what they say, “If you don’t have anything nice to say….” We both enjoyed a good laugh and the hat is now back in the closet and will stay there until I give it away.
As you can see from my photos of the theatre, the play took place in one of Goodman’s larger theatres (they have a few). It’s still an intimate setting with nicely spaced seats and sufficient inclines to ensure that your view is not blocked by the person seated in front of you no matter how tall they are. My husband and I were sitting in the center section in the very last row. Not only did it provide a great view of the stage but it also allowed for great people watching. I was able to get a photo of a few women in red hats.
The play opens with a young woman, Yolanda, (played by Marketta Wilder) dancing and rapping. From her lyrics, we discover she is a teenager from Englewood (Southside Chicago) and recently lost her brother to gun violence. She was devastated by grief and unhappy that her mother was sending her to live with relatives in Georgia for the summer.
The southern family Matriarch known as Mother Shaw is played powerfully by Felicia Fields. Her’s is the voice and presence I remember the most. She conveyed such strength, heart and understanding in her performance. Young Yolanda assumed that Mother Shaw did not understand her feelings or her life in Englewood but Mother Shaw finally asks her “Do you think you are the only one who has lost? The only one who has grieved?” Felicia Fields (Mother Shaw) was careful to balance guidance with judgment which is an impressive accomplishment.
There was another stand-out from the ensemble cast: Jeanette played by Alexis Rogers was sassy, vibrant and mysterious. She conveyed joy and a sense of adventure in life. We received snapshots of each woman’s life throughout the play. It was clear that the common thread of joy, strength, loss and love ran through each woman’s life experience. Yolanda despaired that she could never be as they are. Women who are like rocks and strong as mountains for each other.
You learn that the crowns are the women’s hats. They are instruments of expression that represent their personalities and how they feel on any given day. The hats can convey grace, sass, elegance, aggression, even displeasure. Each woman had a distinct style reflected in their choice of head-wear. Yolanda’s was a red baseball cap that belonged to her brother. She wore it everyday and used it to replace the connection she lost with the death of her only sibling.
As the play progresses, we see Yolanda struggling with the acceptance of her brother’s murder and the possibility they she can choose a different fate for herself. She experiences the expected two steps forward and three steps back. It the end, Yolanda accepted a temporary crown bestowed on her by the women of the southern summer. It was a simple, softly shaped straw hat. A canvas for her to draw upon in realizing her own dreams and shaping her own crown.
I am a strong believer in individual accountability and collective action. When not reading, working or blogging, I’m supporting my favorite charities: Teen Living Programs where I am a volunteer and Executive Board member and YWCA Chicago where I am an Associate Board Member. I am passionate about causes related to supporting youth, women and families. Particularly in the areas of education, social services and housing. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to know more about my charities or the blog.
Categories: Professional Development