Human Race rocks “Crowns”

An amazing ensemble of singers and hats

By Jacqui Theobald

Photo: [l-r] Jasmine Easler as Velma, Torrie Wiggins as Mabel, David Jennings as Man and Joy Lynn Jacobs as Wanda in “Crowns,” which will be performed by The Human Race Theatre Company through June 28; photo: Scott J. Kimmins

An interview with Set Designer Tamara Honesty and Costume Designer David Covach

The most dignified hands and staid feet cannot resist clapping and tapping at the Loft’s energetic interpretation of “Crowns,” an ode to African-American culture and history.

The subtitle is “A Celebration of Spirit.” The setting: “Present and past stories of old Southern church-going women.” Half a dozen women and one man with powerful voices manage to cover universal life stories, references to Yoruba and Nigerian images and the thread of a plot.

Scott Stoney and Debbie Blunden-Diggs co-direct and sing each other’s praises, while noting the script gave them plenty of challenges and opportunities to be original and creative in presentation.

The story, loosely, brings a contemporary Brooklyn girl, whose brother has been shot, sent to her grandmother in South Carolina for safety and introduced to ladies with church hats. They recreate various tales from the original coffee table book of photographs by Michael Cunningham and Craig Marberry, adapted to the stage by the multitalented Regina Taylor.

It’s fine to just enjoy the music and the movement, the colorful costumes and the gorgeous hats and the flexible set without undue scrutiny on time and place or how it all hangs together. There’s plenty of passion and harmony to make the point.

The Human Race Theatre stage overflows with talent, well-balanced voices performing together as a smooth ensemble. Blunden-Diggs’ choreography is fluid with ethnic elegance. Even on stage costume change and augmentation is dancer-like.

Although each of the women has a name, and (more helpfully) is costumed in a single color, they move through the anecdotal stories and powerful songs without additional specific identities. The stories flow along, carried by the music and the vitality of the production.

Opening the show as the distressed Brooklyn girl, Yolanda, is Monette McKay, with “Where I Belong.” In this and a subsequent song about her life, there is a rap cadence, bringing a contemporary contrast to the gospel rhythms. She is convincingly angry and rebellious, dramatically and vocally.

As the revered Mother Shaw, Joilet F. Harris is the center of the ensemble in several of the episodes: she “jumps the broom,” she hoards and hides her hats, she’s widowed, joyous or sad, dispensing wisdom and warmth in a substantial voice.

For Debra Walton, it was a sweet homecoming moment, recalling her days here with DCDC and an earlier Human Race show. She interprets the beautiful Blunden-Diggs choreography and gives depth to Jeanette’s songs. That’s a big voice from a dainty woman dressed in sea blue-green.

For Torrie Wiggins it may seem like a homecoming too, as this is her third appearance this season at HRTC having done Vera in “Mame” and Cassandra in “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” She is a delightful comedienne and can lift a scene with a raised eyebrow. Dayton already knew she could sing. She’s Mabel, dressed in red.

As Wanda, Joy Lynn Jacobs in gold provides much of the narrative and explanation calmly bringing a higher range to the well-balanced singers and clarity to the stories. Most of the music, certainly all the gospels, are eventually sung by the entire company. Yet each woman has her moments to shine individually. Jacobs has many.

Jasmine Easler makes her debut at HRTC as purple-clad Velma, completing the church ladies. She takes advantage of her vignettes to add a bit of sass when it fits, as a preacher’s wife or a funeral director. Her strong voice introduces “His Eye is on the Sparrow” and shines in gospel and her solo “When I’ve Done the Best I Can I want my Crown.” There is a wonderful moment of visual imagery when the six ladies create a body in a casket, without either.

David Jennings is Man. Really, he’s men, playing every single male in the script from African holy man to Southern preacher, from groom to beloved father, from patient to exasperated husband: “You ain’t got but one head,” he says to his hat-hoarding wife. He has an impressive resume, and will leave the show after June 19 to head for Broadway, where he’s been cast in a show that he cannot yet reveal. As one early audience member said with conviction, “That Man can SING.”

HRTC Resident Artist Alan Bomar Jones comes home from another gig to take over as Man on June 20.

Sound as if from a large band is actually produced by two talented artists backstage. Scot Woolley is Music Director/Piano on an electronic keyboard and percussion is by Kevin Anderson on a drumKAT. It would have added to the staging to have seen them; the music is such an essential element.

Costumer David M. Covach has brought not only color and beauty to the overall picture, but also clarity to individuals. Some 50 hats are also integral. Not all of them were newly made for “Crowns,” but some were, including several by local milliner Rev. Samuel Winston, Jr.

Tamara L. Honesty designed the set that works so usefully and believably to accommodate church, home, store and field: multi-scenes and movement. A series of turning and sliding panels hold hats, reflect John Rensel’s light designs; stained glass window, mirror or mood.

The sure directorial hand of Stoney spreads the energy clear into the aisles and Blunden-Diggs makes sure you take some home.

The Human Race Theatre Company presents “Crowns” through June 28 at the Loft Theatre, 126 N. Main St. For tickets and more information, please visit humanracetheatre.org. For additional content on “Crowns,” please visit DaytonCityPaper.com.

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

Tags: , ,

Reach DCP theatre critic Jacqui Theobald at JacquiTheobald@DaytonCityPaper.com.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Got an Opinion?

YourOpinionMatters

We are interested to hear what you think.  Please send us a message. [contact-form 4 “Opinion”]  

Springfield’s hidden gem

CoverHartman2

Referred to as an American Folk Art site, I didn’t know what I expected on my journey to Springfield’s Hartman […]

Debate 7/17: Flag on the Play

DebateBok

Q: Should persons with certain known behavioral tendencies such as suicide or violence be prohibited from owning guns? Legislatures across […]

Conspiracy Theorist 7/17: Hooray for Domino’s

Year after year, the same roads are torn up and road crews patch them. But they never really repair them. […]

On Your Marc 7/17: Good any day

First, a funny story. Larry Lee, the big tackle from Roth High School, for a number of reasons decided he […]

The Cult, Stone Temple Pilots, and Bush at Rose

CULT 2016 Tim Cadiente-2

“Rock and roll never forgets,” the classic rock song goes, and Billy Duffy, guitarist and founding member of the British […]