I always regretted missing Regina Taylor’s play Crowns when it first appeared at the Goodman Theater back in 2004. At the time, it was a huge success with audiences and drew more attention to Taylor’s growing career as a playwright. Crowns went on to be the most-produced new musical in the U.S. during the last decade.
So when I heard that Crowns would be coming back to the Goodman for a new 10th anniversary production this season, I made a note. And after seeing it the other night, it’s easy to see why so many people loved the play initially. It’s the kind of infectious, family-centered, feel-good drama that has people singing in the aisles on the way out, and all the way home.
Crowns was inspired by a coffee-table book of photographs by Michael Cunningham and oral histories by Craig Marberry entitled Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats. Taylor adapted the book into a play, condensing profiles and characters into an intergenerational story about tradition, faith and family.
But for this new production, Taylor has reworked the play a bit, tying the story of the central character, Yolanda, to the streets of Chicago. It’s a move that gives the play a feeling of deeper relevance and resonance.
That’s in part because the catalyst for the story is the murder of Yolanda’s brother Teddy. In the aftermath of the tragedy, Yolanda’s mother sends her to live for the summer with her grandmother and relatives in South Carolina.The move sets off a clash of cultures, values and traditions.
Regina Taylor not only wrote the play, she directs it as well. But Taylor is perhaps best known as an actress, where she’s appeared in numerous stage, film and television roles, including her role as Lilly Harper in the series I’ll Fly Away.
We talk with her on Thursday’s Afternoon Shift #110 about this 10th anniverary production and what it has to teach us about life in Chicago today.