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Church ladies with hattitude: ‘Crowns’ opens May 14 at The Meroney

By Katie Scarvey
kscarvey@salisburypost.com
“Our crowns have been bought and paid for: all we have to do is wear them.”
That quote by James Baldwin is prominently displayed in the new Piedmont Players musical, “Crowns,” which celebrates a special type of royal headgearó the flamboyant hats worn by African-American women to church.
The musical opens at the Meroney Theater May 14.
Although most of the characters are older women, the play’s catalyst is a young street-smart woman from Brooklyn named Yolanda (Ebony Rivers) who has been sent by her mother to stay with her grandmother (Alease Taylor) in South Carolina after her brother is shot and killed.
Through encounters with her grandmother and her grandmother’s friends ó who are trying to “bring her out of funk,” says director Reid Leonard ó she starts to become connected to the spiritual traditions of her elders.
“Crowns” has North Carolina roots. A North Carolina photographer, Michael Cunningham, started taking pictures of black women in their church hats in 1998.
Craig Marberry, a journalist friend of Cunningham, thought that the stories behind the hats needed to be told, and so he added oral histories. Even when the book was still being written, Marberry envisioned a stage adaptation.
The stories were eventually dramatized by playwright and director Regina Taylor, who is known for being in the TV series “I’ll Fly Away.”
From the many stories in the book, Taylor created six composite characters and tells the story over the course of a church-filled Sunday ó with a morning service, a wedding, a funeral, a baptism.
Cast members also include Linda Hunt, Alexis Greer, Tia Glass and Delores Gullick.
The ‘Crowns’ choir is made up of Ruby Ford, Norma Jamison, Jacqueline Springs, Ella Woods, Edwina Downer, Joe Elliott, Emil Foster, Kevin Reese and Brian Roberts.
– – –
“Crowns” will be presented at 7:30 p.m. May 14-16 and May 20 – 23. A matinee performance will be held at 2:30 p.m. May 17.
The box office will open Monday, May 11.
Ticket prices are $15, $12 students/seniors (62 and older), $11 for groups of 20 or more.
The Wednesday performance is $10 for everyone.
Producing Partners are KKA Architecture, Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. and Edward and Susan Norvell.

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