When Elle told "Crowns" was about "black hair," I was thrilled. I would finally get some pointers about what to do with my chronic frizzy, Jew hair-and by way of a gospel musical, no less. I have often been told by hairdressers that I have "black hair," so I figured our trip to the Guthrie would both entertain and educate. Well, it did. But not like I imagined. (Elle was obviously asleep at the wheel about the play's subject matter.)
First of all, when we took our seats in row nine, practically on stage (the view was that great), we saw that the stage adorned with a charming line of swanky hats, (er..."crowns,"), as was much of the audience. From feathered to fedoras, excited playgoers showcased their best fez-including the elderly woman in front of us who refused to remove her bright red top hat when the M.C. politely requested the ladies to "remove their crowns before the show."
Elle: Rox, what are you talking about? She was young, and that wasn't a top hat. It was a--
Rox: Whatever. Let me finish, Elle. I'm onto something here. So needless to say, the spirit was in the house. More than enthusiastic, the crowd filled the rows with clapping, cheering, and a standing ovation, making this by far the most expressive group of Minnesotans I have ever seen anywhere. And yes, that thrilled me to no end. Anything that will get the flat-line culture we live in to actually shake a limb and unclench itself makes me happy. However, the "critic" in me maintains that while this was a fun, entertaining, educational, amazing production, it would not meet the same kind of warm fuzzy reception in New York or LA. It is still very much a Hollywood take on a very specific part of black culture and the history of the hat...crown.
Elle: Jesus Christ, Rox. Can't you get through a review without mentioning LA? Yes, we see the world through the lens of our upbringing, the culture in which we were raised, blah, blah, blah, but it's time to get over LA. World culture does not rise and fall on LA. And do you think you, as a Jew, are any kind of authority on black culture?
Rox: Everything does revolve around LA, Elle. Anyway, It's not that didn't like the play. In fact, the simple set and combined talent of expression, costume, singing, dancing, and passion totally dwarfed the apathetic reruns we have often seen at other unnamed venues. Plus, the timeless narrative that entwined several stories of women and their hats (beginning in the earlier part of the twentieth century to the present) into an overarching theme of finding joy, self acceptance, and love among others, was very moving at times.
Elle: Get to the point, Rox. The theme was love, loss, and faith. The hats were used to tell those stories--
Rox: As I was saying: combined with the live music and the wizard on lighting, the cast introduced something new to Guthrie goers. By utilizing the strength and flexibility of their bodies as an art form, there were some very sharp and effective portrayals of grief, joy, and universal stepping stones. So I liked it, though not as much as Elle.
Elle: Not new. In 1998 the Guthrie put on my all time favorite play "Thunder Knocking On The Door", which reminded me a little of "Crowns", except in Thunder they were singing The Blues.
Rox: One more thing before we go on, didn't Melodie (the press gal) look cute last night? That long hooded coat? Was she wearing a crown?
Elle: Lordy, Lordy, are you ever off topic Talk about the play, Rox.
Rox: I did. At length.
Elle: Fine. I'm sorry I told you it was about "black hair." Crowns = crowning glory. See, when I was reading what the play was about, all that jumped out at me were the words "gospel music." That's all I cared about.
Rox: What is it with you and gospel music?
Elle: Must be the influence of my mother's Christian blood.
Rox: That's right! She's a convert. Is she African American?
Elle: Sweet Jesus, Rox. You've met her. She's a redhead, skin as pale as milk. Anyway, this has been my favorite production since we've been reviewing.
Rox: Better than "Jesus Christ Superstar"?
Elle: Good God, Yes! "Crowns" had passion. "JC" had Heavy Metal Jesus twisting his body into pretzel shapes. When the cast of "Crowns" sang and danced, I felt the music. And even though, like in "JC", the actors in "Crowns" jerked their bodies in dance steps that would sprain my whole body if I tried to do them, their movement seemed...oh, no, I'm about to use a Rox word: authentic. You know, like the spirit was really in them.
Rox: Well, it just didn't move me in the same way.
Elle: How could that whiney-ass "I Don't Know How To Love Him" song in JC compare to the visceral music in this production? Everyone in Crowns had amazing voices, though I was particularly electrified by the voices of Great Oglesby and T. Mychael Rambo--the lone man in the production.
I don't think you're giving "Crowns" nearly enough credit. This was not just some "Hollywood take on a specific part of black culture." But did you know the playwright, Regina Taylor stared in one of my all time favorite TV shows? It was called "I'll Fly Away". That's the name of a gospel song, you know. Anyway, the music, rap, gospel, spirituals, ring shouts--that was when they were going around in a circle, dancing, stomping, jerking, clapping, and shouting, celebrates African American culture all the way back to Africa. Even the costumes they wore when the first came on stage spoke to African culture.
Rox: I wish they would have sung "Will The Circle Be Unbroken".
Elle: I think that was written by a white woman in the early 1900's. I know the music was composed by a white man. The point is, Rox, this play takes us from the traditions of Africa and the Yoruba religion, through slavery, through African American Christianity, up through today, using hats as the narrative structure for the women to tell their stories and the stories of their ancestors. I don't know what you thought was "Hollywood" about that. This was not like the glitz and glam productions you're so fond of--
Rox; Excuse me? Aren't you the one who insisted we see "Hairspray,"?
Elle:: You're a bad influence on me, Rox. Anyway, I already know there's no way I'll love it as much as "Crowns."
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