It’s astonishing how many layers of meaning can fit underneath a hat. Crowns delves deep into the ways in which we care for ourselves and find connections, and my juicy questions do the same:
1. What is a “hat” in your life? Is there any article of clothing that holds a deeper meaning for you, beyond the surface of its fabric?
2. What are your personal “hat queen rules”?
3. Over the course of your life, have you found a place you can go “to see where you fit in”?
Though I mean it in earnest, my answer for the first question will seem very flippant. That’s because my equivalent of a hat is…pajama pants. My wife and I try to make our apartment as warm and nurturing as possible, a safe haven from the everyday grind. And for me, these comfy, fuzzy pants are like being able to put on my home in the form of a garment.
As might be expected, the rules that go along with pajama pants are pretty simple and unfussy: 1. PJ pants are for inside only—no wearing them out on the city sidewalk. 2. Put your PJ pants on as soon as possible after coming home. 3. You know you have a real friend coming over when you don’t bother to put your jeans back on.
In Crowns, Yolanda (Gabrielle Beckford) is sent Down South to stay with her Grandmother (Shari Addison) in order to ground her “vexed spirit.” She is at odds with Grandma Shaw’s world of hat queens as she struggles to work through her past difficulties in the spiritual context of church. But she discovers who she is and what she has to offer.
The ocean is where I go when, like Yolanda, I need to “see where I fit in,” when I need to deepen my connection to the divine. The waves are a source of comfort, the vastness an indicator of my place in the world.
Crowns is a fitting finish to the season because it reminds me of how far we’ve come since September: Six stories uncovered. Six windows into the world. Six small journeys sharing a wider arc.
The South for Yolanda is like the moor in Baskerville: an unfamiliar place, removed from her everyday experience, where she can face her wild pain and fragile humanity.
The violence explored in Office Hour is revisited in a hopeful way with Crowns: taking a chance on someone, reaching out across the abyss created by trauma—this time with a happy ending.
As Grandma Shaw advises, “what starts out as an awful thing can force a change.” It’s the same lesson that both Danny and Reuven learn through painful silence in The Chosen. In both plays, the connections forged across generations drive the characters’ growth.
Crowns also echoes The Chosen by highlighting the differences that exist within a shared culture. Though Yolanda and Grandma Shaw come from the same family, their lives in the North and the South have been so different. But like Danny and Reuven, they depend on their common ground to help them navigate a difficult world.
As Eleanor does in Fireflies, Yolanda struggles to trust others. Grandma Shaw and the hat queens work hard to prove themselves worthy of her trust, and because of that, Yolanda finds out that there are many others who share her pain. I could just hear the teacher from Small Mouth Sounds explaining again that, even if you think you’re by yourself in an ocean of sorrow, “you are not alone.”
Just as in Small Mouth Sounds, there is the symbol of water as a means of touching the divine, touching that which is greater than ourselves, and Yolanda ends the play with an ocean of new possibilities stretching out before her.
It’s been a year of trust, connection, change and possibility, and I appreciated the chances to learn, to question, to grow. See you all next season.
Leah Andelsmith is a writer living in New Haven. She loves the arts and finding magic in the everyday. This was her first season as a community ambassador for Long Wharf Theatre. You can find her on Facebook: facebook.com/leahandelsmith