Regina Taylor’s “Crowns” is now playing at McCarter Theatre Center’s Mathews Theatre, in Princeton, New Jersey, and you had best get your tickets now before they are sold out. This newly- revised production of Taylor’s groundbreaking musical tears us apart to bring us all together, all in less than two hours. If there was ever a time for one musical to unite us all, this is it!
Yolanda (Gabrielle Beckford) is 17 and has just lost her brother. In the wake of the family tragedy, her mother moves Yolanda from Chicago down South, where she goes to live with Mother Shaw (Shari Addison), her mother’s mother. When you’re 17, you have it all figured out. You’re tough and know how to take care of yourself, right? Predictably, Yolanda experiences a major culture shock that goes beyond just the difference between urban and country. Yolanda discovers that people in the South are as complicated and fraught with their own situations as much as she is, and it will take a mountain of love and a Fort Knox of patience, before she understands the measure of the treasure that she will find by opening her heart.
Taylor’s original urban setting was originally Brooklyn, but as she is from Chicago, the recently-revised 15th anniversary version has Yolanda hailing from the Midwest. Yolanda’s anger is formidable and a tangible thing in Beckford’s portrayal and it is a visible character in her seething. As Yolanda tames that tiger, we see the phoenix that emerges from the crucible and ashes of her pain. Addison’s performance as Mother Shaw radiates the love of someone who was a mother, and who likely struggled as such, but has been through an annealing fire of her own. That distance gives her that mountain of love and patience. Perhaps her greatest victory is the new birth Mother Shaw gives Yolandathe rebirth that she was too close to her own daughter to provide.
Mother Shaw has an army of her owna group of women united by their faith and their hats. Each of the members of this groupJeanette (Rebecca E. Covington), Velma (Latice Crawford), Wanda (Stephanie Pope) and Mabel (Danielle K. Thomas)has her own special way of reaching Yolanda. Whether firm or saucy, sharp or sweet, together they soften Yolanda’s heart to prepare the way for the message to come. There are many ways to show a family’s love and they have every one! Lawrence Clayton is the Man, a role he played Off-Broadway 15 years ago in his Audelco Award-winning performance. He is all the men in our livesthe good, kind, and loving men we rely on, and each of these men is so beautifully acted, that it is impossible not to consider those men in our own lives. While typically an ensemble show will be men with someone playing the Woman, Taylor gives entrée to those who may not know the complexities of the world of women. And these women, and the Man, are giants!
Music director Jaret Landon, who along with Chesney Snow created the original compositions, does the honors on piano, keyboard, and trumpet. David Pleasant, listed as Drumfolk Riddim Specialist, has nary a spare momenthe is continually creating the percussive tapestry that seems to mirror the characters’ innermost thoughts. His mien is beatific as he is one with the music that he and Landon create. And a special nod goes to the Community Guest Soloists for these productions. On the day I went we were graced with the music of Twanda Muslim from Plainfield, NJ, while other featured singers include Lois Alexander from Ewing Township, NJ, Tracie Daves from Trenton, NJ, and Karen Jones from West Trenton, NJ, all of whom add depth and local flavor with the beauty of their work.
Taylor’s play and expert direction takes us on Yolanda’s hero’s quest. Through it all, we are torn down to our most essential selves and beliefs. That moment when Yolanda has her revelations, we are right there with her. Hats are not just hatsall of God’s children have crowns. This is an experience that is balm for our troubled cultural heartsit is time to stop fighting and let the healing begin.
This magnificent show closes April 1, so reserve NOW. No matter when you go, you are invited to the post-play discussions and lectures to make some time for these brilliant events. Give the best most non-fattening Spring present EVER! Contact the box office today at www.McCarter.org
or via telephone at 609/258.ARTS (2787).