Sunday, April 26, 2009


From the opening lines of the play, I knew I was in for a better show than the other time I'd seen it. The play is called Crowns, and we went to see it at the Lincoln Theater on U Street on Friday night. To succinctly summarize it, it's a historical musical on the origins of women's hats in the black church. Having been to so few black churches in my lifetime, I had to take their word for it.

Every Sunday, when we went to church, Grandma always had on a beautiful hat.

"Mmmm, hmmm," rose the agreement from the audience. It was altogether entertaining and enlightening. The costumes were vibrant, the voices were incredible, and the production was top-notch. I guess that's the difference between the community theater production I saw in the park in St. Pete and this merry band of professional thespians we saw on Friday.

The play opened and closed with an old hymn called, ""When I've Done the Best I Can, I Want My Crown." In this simple hymn, it explains the title of the play beautifully. For the entirety of the play, that point is built upon. We see that the hats that these women wear to church are based in part on African tribal custom and slave history, as church was the only place that slaves were allowed to congregate. Do right by the Lord on earth, you'll be rewarded with a crown in heaven.

I've racked my brain trying to come up with a subject that would hit home as closely as it did for the mostly female audience. I felt a little kinship with the plot line of My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Greek and Italian families aren't a whole lot different. Following our family reunion a few summers back, I saw just how true that could be. Perhaps My Big, Loud Italian Reunion? That's only a familial culture thing, though. This play clearly struck a chord that went beyond individual families. I could identify with some of the subject matter based on my years in Alachua County, but being white and male, I couldn't grasp the cultural significance of it beyond what the plot was.

It triggered a brief Florida memory in me. Otis, the head custodian at my old school, lost a family member (I think it was his mother, but I can't recall) a few years ago. I was one of three coworkers that went to her memorial service. It was a blistering hot day. The church was packed with people in their Sunday best, crowns included. Crowns illustrated why perfectly.

I need to start going to church again. Any local recommendations?

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