Burning Coal Theatre and Temple Theatre
At Murphey School Auditorium
Through Dec. 19

Your enjoyment of Regina Taylor’s Crowns may depend on how much you love hats. By the end of Burning Coal and Temple Theatre’s production of the one-act musical, you will know a great deal about them and their place in African-American culture.

Taylor (best known as an actress in such television series as I’ll Fly Away and The Unit) structures her play as a series of anecdotes and musical numbers, adapting the book by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. There is little narrative to the story, save for a running story line about Yolanda (Naima Adedapo, who also contributed to the choreography), a young woman from Brooklyn sent to her grandmother (Joan J) in South Carolina after the shooting death of her brother. There she learns about the role of hats in the local culture firsthand.

The scenes take on a series of mediations on “hat queens” or “hattitude,” with much of the ensemble playing a variety of roles as they discuss the proper hat for the proper situation, the social status granted by a hat, the social mores of hat wearing in the civil rights era and many more, with scenes broken up by renditions of popular spirituals and some elaborate dancing.

Crowns suffers from a slightly unfocused script but comes alive in its dance sequences, displaying an energy and vitality that gets the audience’s toes tapping. And of course there are plenty of hats, including many suspended from the Murphey School ceiling. Crowns is an engaging production, a celebration of African-American cultureand headgear.