Goodman Theatre: “Crowns”

Regina Taylor’s “Crowns,” now running at the Goodman Theatre, is a story of salvation.

A story of a journey from darkness into light, from isolation to sisterhood. In between, there is music, laughter and tender healing tears.

Crowns refer to the hats that the African-American women of Darlington, North Carolina wear to church on Sunday. But the first hat we see is a baseball cap on the head of  Yolanda, a teenager who lives in the Englewood neighborhood in Chicago. In a sad case of art imitating life, her beloved brother has been shot and her mother sends her South to stay with her grandmother.

Yolanda is played by Marketta P. Wilder, who hides the intensity of her grief until, in the embrace of Mother Shaw, the irrepressible Felicia Fields, she breaks open and finds comfort in the company of the Southern women whose crowned heads provide a circle of protection and warmth.

And what women they are! E. Faye Butler, who like Fields is one of Chicago’s leading ladies of theater, plays the zany Mabel, with Jasondra Johnson as Velma, Alexis J. Rogers as Jeanette, and Pauletta Washington as Wanda. Each is clad in white and wears her distinct headpiece with unabashed “hatitude.”

David Jennings has all the male roles in the show, including the fiery preacher, who ignites his congregation with his Gospel-based oratory and rousing song. “If I could touch the Hem of His Garment” is the stand-out.

Laughter is in the DNA of this joyful show.  Though the women have suffered, Yolanda soaks up their wit and undaunted spirit. When, overcome by grief, she finally shouts, “Why? Why,” the women surround her in a powerful, healing embrace.

This lively one-hour 40-minute show, which has already been extended through Aug. 12, is rich in stagecraft, with mobile framing devices, dozens of hanging hats, and projected backgrounds, one image representing the waters of Baptism.

Performed without intermission, the story moves forward in an organic fashion, enveloping not only Yolanda, but all of us in the warmth of faith, hope and — always the best — love.

“Crowns”
Running through August 12
Tickets availabel at www.goodman.org