Troubled Brooklyn teenager Yolanda is sent to live with her church-going grandmother down South.
'An Idiots Guide to Hats' could be a possible title to the show at the Loft Theatre through June 28, except everything about it is brilliant. I certainly never knew there was so much to be learned about hats or of their rich history with African-American women, particularly those who attend church. The name of 'Crowns' is most fitting, because it's a real jewel of a show, that's fit for royalty, and seeing it feels like a crowning achievement.
'Crowns' tells the stories of several Southern church-going women and their love affairs with hats. It's a Commandment straight from the Bible in their eyes to always wear one, and if God's word wasn't enough, Mother always said, "Child, put something on your head." Based on the program, each character has a name, but in this case they are as meaningless as perms, as the cast members play a variety of roles. For each story being told the talented cast takes on a different persona, each being a lover of hats.
One constant is Yolanda (Monette McKay), who plays a rebellious teen, sent to live with her grandmother after her brother is killed by a gunshot. All the hat tales are meant to help her down a brighter path and towards salvation. McKay masters the range of attitude that Yolanda displays and is a shining centerpiece of 'Crowns.'
The entire cast is deserving of a tip of the cap, as their performances are more eye-catching than any hat ever worn at the Kentucky Derby or anywhere. As the grandmother/ Mother Shaw (Joilet F. Harris) is the leader of the pack and brings a sense of respected authority to the stage. While she plays a funeral home owner for a portion of the show, Jasmine Easler's voice is full of life, particularly when singing 'His Eye is on the Sparrow,' with a spirit strong enough to reach the heavens. Torie Wiggins also embodies spirit as a minister's wife, sharing a message that carries so much force it blows the hat right off her head. In one of the show's most humorous and educational scenes, Wiggins gives a lesson on how to prevent ever coming into contact with another person's hat. Joy Lynn Jacobs is a perfect fit as Wanda, who describes how the size of a person's hat should be proportionate to their body time. (Free tip: The hat's brim should never stretch past the wearers shoulders). A sweet natured, angelic beauty Debra Walton lights up the stage with every movement she makes, especially during a praiseful dance during 'Oh Lord I'm Waiting On You.'
The only male in the cast is worthy of his own paragraph as David Jennings plays every father, husband, preacher, brother and every other man in the show. If Jennings truly was a preacher, I'd attend his church as his ability to reach the heart is displayed with his performance of 'If I Can Help Somebody.' Billy Graham of even Martin Luther King Jr. could not match his reverence and ability to reach the heart…okay, okay that might be a little too much hyperbole, but Jennings deserves high praise.
A strength of the show is that it excels at creating the setting of being in an old Southern church. Several times I felt as is if I was in a Sunday morning worship service, and I even stayed awake. Of course the sermons are all two minutes or less. 'Crowns' does carry a type of Godly message throughout, without being preachy, but sets a pleasant tone. Listen close, and you'll not only hear the different ways to position a hat, but also some valuable spirited messages.
I tip my cap to all involved with 'Crowns' as it not only exceeded my expectations, by far, but became one of the best theatrical experiences I've had. I guarantee that you'll feel the same way. Presented by the Human Race, 'Crowns' continues at The Loft Theatre, through June 28.
Mike Woody is a life long resident of Dayton, and has a passion for writing, which is good because he doesn't excel at much of anything else, except eating.
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