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Monday, April 20, 2009


Remember back when the highlight of your week was going to hang out at the mall with your friends and your parents just dropped you off and left you there? (Annie, don't get any ideas. It's a WAY different world!) Our hangout was the Salem Mall in Dayton, Ohio and one of my favorite things to do there was go to Donenfeld's and try on the fancy Sunday hats.

So when I had a chance to go see the musical play Crowns at the Indiana Repertory Theatre yesterday, I was all over it! Crowns tells the stories of six African-American women through the many Sunday hats they wear. The characters include a Brooklyn teenager (Shannon Antalan) sent to live with her grandmother after the teen's brother was murdered, the grandmother (Chandra Currelley) and four other church-goin' women (Terry Burrell, Crystal Fox, Valerie Payton and Roz White).


The stage was set with dozens of hats hanging on coat racks and I found myself anxious to see certain hats on the heads of the actors, especially a black and red feathery number that turned out to be more appealing on the rack than on someone's head.

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The opening scene reminded me of the opening of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, with colorful and swirling robes. (Though when I look at the pic below, it doesn't seem very Joseph, but trust me, that's what came to mind.)

Swirling robes

The script offered some historical perspective on the tradition of wearing hats to Sunday worship. Hats were used to adorn oneself for worship. One of the characters said, "I'm going to meet the King; I'd better look good." In addition, hats were a status symbol. When a woman got some money, she spent it on hats and the place to show that hat was church.

From the very beginning of the show, the music -- Gospel and spirituals -- was engaging. It started out controlled and a little tame, leaving me hungry for some Praise Jesus! Hallelujah! moments. All in good time, Amy, all in good time.

I'm sure that someone who grew up on a steady diet of Gospel music could name more of the songs, but one that I recognized and thoroughly enjoyed was "His Eye is on the Sparrow." There were plenty of other uplifting and joyful songs that lent themselves to clapping and participation by the audience. I wish I had some mp3 files of the music to share with you. Or a soundtrack to listen to in my car.

The six female voices were joined by a lone male voice, that of Dennis Spears. Now, I'll admit to having a little bit of a thing for bald men (which is good news for Mike in his later years). Add to that the silky, sexy tone of Spears' voice and I was hooked. Too bad they didn't have a meet and greet after the show so I could rub that round brown "crown."


Besides wondering what it would feel like to touch Dennis Spears' head, Crowns made me wonder several other things:
  1. Do African-American women still where hats to church? My own church is pretty diverse, but in my experience you don't see a lot of hats in Catholic churches.

  2. What part of my heritage do I have to pass down? It was clear that Sunday hats are part of a cultural heritage in the African-American community. What is the heritage that I will pass down to my children and grandchildren? Since I'm sort of a human mutt when it comes to nationalities, it is probably my Catholic heritage that I will transfer most strongly.

  3. Is there something in my life that I use as these characters use hats? Two lines of the script struck me: "Hats are like people -- sometimes they reveal, sometimes they conceal" and "Sometimes under those hats is a lot of joy and a lot of sorrow." What in my life do I use to display or hide my joy and sorrow?
I'll admit I was lost a little in the script for part of the show, not sure how some of the women's recollections tied in with the theme of hats. But in the end, I recognized that there were really two stories told by this show. The first was how hats play a role in the African-American culture. The second was the tale of a journey from despair to hope and joy, and for me that's where the power and the inspiration of the show came.

Crowns is adapted from a coffee table-type book of the same name by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. It runs on the Mainstage at the Indiana Repertory Theatre through May 2. You can buy tickets in advance or stop by the IRT box office one hour for showtime when any remaining tickets are available for 50% off!

Photos by R. Brent Smith, courtesy of IRT


Sharon said...

What a great performance1 I'd love to see it sometime.
And I think you know the mall in Dayton you mentioned. Can you see it pretty easily from I-75? I think we pass it all the time driving 75, and we always say we should stop in there.

The mall WAS cool. Not that my day was that long ago, but things have changed, and now we face mall shootings, etc. I don't know that I'd let my kids go alone, either.

Btw, I totally think you should post a pic of you w/ one of those fancy hats on. ;)

Eternal Lizdom said...

Oh so wish I could have gone to this show!! Future opportunities... Although, taking Teagan to see Frog and Toad was definitely worth the sacrifice!

Joanie said...

When I was a kid, we always had to wear hats to church. If you forgot a hat, you put a tissue on your head! The head HAD to be covered! Not long ago, I found my chapel veil from high school! We had to keep them in our lockers so we'd have them whenever we had Mass at school.

That play sounds really interesting. I hadn't heard of that one before.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly interesting for me to read that blog. Thanks for it. I like such themes and everything that is connected to them. I would like to read more soon.

Hilary Kuree