Book by: Regina Taylor
Adapted from the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry
Cast Size: 7
Pay: All cast members will be paid per performance.
Unlike plays that follow a sequential story or “plot line,” Crowns weaves together a variety of stories from different characters, time periods, and perspectives that, when integrated with music and dance, create a tapestry of voices that transcend time and place.
The essential story of Crowns is that of a young African-American girl trying to figure out her identity, her place in the world, and her place in her own culture. Yolanda is a tough girl from Brooklyn who is proud of her status as a true New Yorker, but when her brother Teddy is shot, Yolanda’s mother sends her to South Carolina to live with her grandmother. Yolanda begins a journey that will link her own experiences to the stories of her relatives, her history, and her people.
Mother Shaw, Yolanda’s grandmother, welcomes her granddaughter into a circle of female spirits who come to life as Wanda, Mabel, Jeanette, and Velma. As they prepare for church on a Sunday morning, they tell stories of their own connections to hats as a part of the rich African-American heritage, but Yolanda defends her affinity for hats and headwear as “her own thing.”
After a dramatically inspiring church service, Yolanda is figuratively baptized into the legacy of these women and all the ancestors who have gone before her.
WANDA (Black) is the most ladylike woman of the group. Her stories are full of propriety and decorum as well as fond recollections. The choice of the appropriate hat is very important to Wanda.
“I realize, right here and now, that even if I had no hair, I’d glue a wig to my scalp and put a hat on.”
JEANETTE is flirtatious, brassy, fun-loving, and full of the joy of spirituality. Her stories include a memorable gift from a white acquaintance and the memory of her father’s favorite hat. At church, she admires Mother Shaw. “I’d lend my children before I’d lend my hats. I know my children know their way home, but my hats might not.”
VELMA coins the phrase “hattitude” for the way a woman ought to carry herself in a hat. She is tougher than she looks - hard times have offered her many life lessons. Velma, a funeral director, observes how “hattitude” figures into the death ritual. “Sometimes under those hats there’s a lot of pain and a lot of sorrow.”
YOLANDA is the youngest of the group, the outsider who resists the other women in their attempts to welcome her into their family. Yolanda asserts herself as a rebellious spirit and bucks the traditions that the others hold sacred. “Don’t want to be / Boxes in / By some dead or dying traditions / And I don’t know how to be one of them.”
MOTHER SHAW is Yolanda’s grandmother and the matriarch of the play. She remembers the days before the civil rights movement and signs proclaiming “Whites Only.” She is a leader in her community and recognized for her fiesty nature and her power to “usher in the Spirit.” “If you get to shoutin’ hard and that hat comes off, it’s mine.”
MABEL is a minister’s wife who confesses to owning about 200 hats. Mabel believes in setting an example of dress and behavior for younger girls and exercises her influence with a sharp and sassy tell-it-like-it-is attitude. “Listen - never touch my hat. Admire it from a distance, honey.”
The MAN, the spirit of the crossroads, is a vital part of the women’s histories and appears in different roles through- out the play. He serves the stories that the women tell, often bringing momentary life to the fathers, brothers, hus- bands, and preachers who have touched the lives of the other characters. “You don’t need another hat. You don’t have but one head.”