Preview: Taproot Theatre Presents <em>Crowns</em> By Regina Taylor

Taproot Theatre presents a rousing and celebratory production, gospel music and storytelling come together in the play, Crowns by Regina Taylor, to surprise, delight and remind us all of the unique and diverse ways we express ourselves.

Faith Bennett Russell will make her directing debut with Taproot Theatre’s production of Crowns by Regina Taylor, adapted from the book Crowns: Portraits of Black Women in Church Hats by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry. A world-renowned award-winning playwright and actor, Taylor is an Artistic Associate at The Goodman Theatre in Chicago.

Crowns weaves together a variety of stories from different characters, time periods and perspectives that, when integrated with music and dance, create a tapestry of voices that transcend time and place.

As Yolanda struggles to find her place in the world and in her own culture, she is surrounded by a community of women that transcend place and time to infuse her with stories of faith, fortitude and pride.

Yolonda is a tough girl from Brooklyn who is proud of her status as a true New Yorker. When Crowns begins, Yolonda has been sent to South Carolina to live with her grandmother after her brother was shot. Mother Shaw, Yolonda’s grandmother, welcomes her granddaughter into a circle of women (Wanda, Jeanette, Velma and Mabel) and a Man who takes many roles. These characters help Yolonda begin linking her own experiences to the stories of her relatives, her history and her people.

Marlette Buchanan, Bethanie Willis and Vincent ‘VJ’ Orduña in Crowns at Taproot Theatre. (Photo by John Ulman.) on equality365

Marlette Buchanan, Bethanie Willis and Vincent ‘VJ’ Orduña in Crowns at Taproot Theatre. (Photo by John Ulman.)

Crowns follows Yolonda, Mother Shaw and the other characters through a church service. Through its many parts, the service draws Yolonda out of her isolation and grief, teaches her the history of her ancestors and her people, and initiates her into a place in her new community. The women spend the early morning getting dressed and ready for church—of course, all wearing hats. As the service starts with a processional, Yolonda reluctantly wears the hat that Mother Shaw has bought for her. The women teach Yolonda the “hat queen rules” of etiquette and proper hat wearing.

Mother Shaw takes over and ushers in the Spirit, which temporarily transforms the space. Shadows of the past take the place of stained glass windows, and echoes of ring shouts and slave songs envelope Yolonda. She pulls away to perform her own “rebel dance,” a movement that evokes the urban landscape of her Brooklyn home and her homesickness. The congregation tries to embrace Yolonda with their message of everlasting love and their own stories of loss.

Yolonda tells them her story last, describing her brother’s death and his funeral. She remembers him with sadness and longing, and the women open their arms to her and soothe her with song. In a final movement, Yolonda is baptized, welcomed and accepted into the legacy of these women and all the ancestors who have gone before her.

She recognizes the unique ways her ancestry manifests in herself as she declares, “African Americans do very African things without even knowing it. Adorning the head is one of those things…whether it’s the intricate braids or the distinct hairstyles or the beautiful hats we wear on Sundays. We just know inside that we’re queens. And these are the crowns we wear.”

Wherever Regina Taylor’s Crowns runs, the audience becomes a sea of colorful hats. Bare heads are not discouraged, but they will not be turned away.

Regina Taylor's Crowns at Taproot TheatreAbout Regina Taylor
With an impressive body of work that encompasses film, television, theater and writing, Regina Taylor’s career continues to evolve with exciting and challenging projects.
 Taylor is best known to television audiences for her role as Lilly Harper in the series “I’ll Fly Away.” She received many accolades for her performance in the show including winning a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series, an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series and two Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series. Taylor was most recently seen starring in the CBS hit drama “The Unit”. She took home the NAACP Image Award for “Outstanding Actress in a Drama” for her work on the show.
Regina made her professional acting debut on CBS in the movie “Crisis at Central High” and other television credits include the series “The Education of Max Bickford,” “Feds” as well as television movies “Strange Justice” playing Anita Hill, earning her a Peabody Award and Gracie Award, “Cora Unashamed,” “Children of the Dust,” “I’ll Fly Away: Then and Now,” “Howard Beach: Making a Case for Murder.”

Segueing effortlessly between the big and small screen, Taylor has starred in blockbuster films alongside some of Hollywood most talented leading men. Her film credits include “The Negotiator,” “Courage Under Fire,” “A Family Thing,” “The Keeper,” “Clockers,” “Losing Isaiah,” and “Lean on Me.”In addition to her film and television work, Taylor holds the honor as being the first Black woman to play William Shakespeare’s Juliet in Broadway’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Her other theater credits include “As You Like It,” “Macbeth,” “Machinal,” “The Illusion” and “Jar the Floor.” In addition, she won the L.A. Dramalogue Award for her performance in “The Tempest” on the west coast.

Taylor not only feels comfortable on the stage, she is also an accomplished playwright and director. Her other credits as playwright include “Oo-Bla-Dee,” for which she won the American Critics’ Association new play award, “Drowning Crow,” (her adaptation of Chekhov’s THE SEAGULL, which was produced on Broadway by Manhattan Theater Club in its inaugural season at the Biltmore Theater and starred Alfre Woodard), “The Dreams of Sarah Breedlove,” “A Night in Tunisia,” “Escape from Paradise,” “Watermelon Rinds,” and “Inside the Belly of the Beast.”

Taylor’s critically acclaimed Crowns continues to be one of the most performed musicals in the country. It is the winner of four Washington D.C. Helen Hayes awards including Taylor’s win for Best Direction as well as Best Regional Musical. Taylor’s play “Magnolia” premiered at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in March 2009. Taylor’s trilogy, “The Trinity River Plays” premiered as a co-production with the Dallas Theater Center and the Goodman Theatre and was the Recipient of the 2010 Edgerton Foundation New American Play Award. Most recently Taylor wrote and directed Post Black, (a monologue played by Micki Grant, Carmen De Lavallade, and Ruby Dee) for The River Crosses Rivers II Festival at NYC’s Ensemble Studio Theatre.

Taylor is a member and Artistic Associate of the Goodman Theatre and a resident playwright at NYC’s Signature Theatre Company.She received the Hope Abelson Artist-In-Residence Award from Northwestern in 2010. Creator and Curator of The State(s) of America – The Regina Taylor Project, a festival involving multiple departments at Northwestern University; students were challenged to own their own voice by creating plays, films, interactive graphic art, stories, spoken word and devised pieces that hold up mirrors to these times. She has received honorary doctorates from Columbia College, DePaul University and Lake Forest College. Taylor is also the National Spokesperson for the Ovarian Cancer Symptom Awareness Organization (OCSA), launched in 2010 to educate both women and men about this deadly disease, which is the number one gynecologic cancer killer of women. She was raised in Dallas, Texas and recently moved to Chicago.

The Cast
Bretteney Beverly as Wanda
Marlette Buchanan as Mabel
Tracy Michelle Hughes as Mother Shaw
Kristen Natalia as Velma
Vincent “VJ” Orduña as Man
Be Russell as Jeanette
Bethanie Willis as Yolanda

Special Dates For The Audience
Post-Play Discussions: TTC staff and cast members will join the audience to discuss the play and its production process. Post-play discussions are held after every Wednesday performance and after the Midweek Matinee performances on March 27 at 2:00 PM (limited availability), April 4 at 10:30 AM and April 18 at 2:00 PM.

Pay What You Can (PWYC): March 28 at 7:30 PM; a limited number of $10 tickets are available at noon, tickets may be purchased in person or by phone (card fees may apply). Beginning at 5:00 PM, tickets are name-your-own-price; these tickets may be purchased in person only. Limit 4 tickets per person. Seating for PWYC performances is General Admission, there is no reserved seating. If you have accessible seating needs please call the Box Office directly.

Intergenerational Matinee: April 4 at 10:30 AM (guided post-play discussion); With $10 student/chaperone tickets, play guides and a guided post-play discussion, our Intergenerational Matinee enhances student education, providing theatre as a tool and springboard for learning, growth and communication.

Senior Matinees: March 27 (post-play discussion, limited availability) & April 18 (post-play discussion) at 2:00 PM; Our Senior Matinee program provides anyone aged 62 and older with an affordable way to participate in live theatre in convenient daytime performance.

Crowns runs March 21 – April 28, 2018. Wed-Sat. at • Wed/Thur, at Taproot Theatre Company’s Jewell Mainstage Theatre, single tickets are available online at, by phone at 206.781.9707 or in person at 204 N 85th St.; tickets range from $27-50, a $5 senior/student discount off regularly priced tickets (excludes previews or specially priced performances); tickets for the Midweek Matinees are $20; discounts are available for groups of 8 or more by visiting or by calling 206.781.9708. Age recommendation: 12+

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Starla Smith

Starla Smith

Starla Smith is a career journalist, writing features for such publications as The New Yorker, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily News, The Des Moines Register, Vibe and a prize-winning Gannett Newspaper. She helped launch Theater Week Magazine and eventually became its publisher. As a regular contributor to Playbill, her interviews and photos were featured in Playbill and Playbill-on-line. Smith was featured in the New York Times "Style" section for her "Word Portraits," specialized tributes, speeches, and presentation profiles. And she covered theater and features for City Search, Digital City, and the Tena Duberry WOW! Radio show. She previously served as astrology guru for Out Magazine, and she hastens to assure her readers that "Starla" is indeed her real name.

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