The Anthony Bean Community Theater is reprising Regina Taylor's odd musical amalgam Crowns, having first mounted the play in 2004. In my review then, I said that if the show was half as long, it would have been twice as good. My feelings are unchanged.
Weaknesses arise from the script and not from the winning performances of the likable and vibrant cast. Crowns is a sort of cultural investigation into the churchgoing finery worn by African-American women. Hats don't simply show reverence. They also reflect status.
The show is a sequence of short monologues and musical numbers — mostly hymns and gospel tunes like "We're Marching To Zion." Five church members explain the role hats have played in their lives, but there is little drama between the women, so we don't come to know them as individuals. In fact, we hardly catch their names. Most crucially, we don't anticipate the second act wondering how conflicts will be resolved.
There is one significant conflict. Mother Shaw (the formidable, and delightful Pat McGuire Hill) is the leader of the older women. The slim, young Yolanda (Leah Rouegé) radiates the vibe of the next generation. If the women have "hat-itude," Yolanda's got attitude. Her preferred crown is a crimson baseball cap. How is the church's older generation to deal with the young woman's hip-hop stylings. Moved by the spirit, the woman can dance and shake as well as anyone half their age. During many numbers, the audience can hardly remain in their seats as well.
Ultimately, the hats represent tradition — a link with the past. "When I look at myself in a hat, I see my mama," says one woman in a sentiment repeated many times throughout the show.
Anthony Bean skillfully directs Hill, Rouegé, Donna King, Loretta Petit, Sybil Williams, Sandra Butler-Navarre and Ed Bishop. Kesha McKey choreographed, and John Grimsley designed the spare but excellent set.
When Crowns is good, it's very, very good. — Dalt Wonk
8 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; 3 p.m. Sun.; through June 28
Anthony Bean Community Theater, 1333 S. Carrollton Ave., 862-7529; www.anthonybeantheater.com