Re­gi­na Taylor's mu­si­cal Crowns professes to be a cel­e­bra­tion of Af­ri­can American "hattitude," but it believes it's about so much more. So, I guess, do Dela­ware The­atre Company and di­rec­tor Kevin Ramsey, both of whom go on at length in the show's pro­gram notes to ex­plain just how im­por­tant it is that audiences see this work. Ramsey makes excuses for Taylor, explaining that the show's disorienting man­ner of zigzagging its locations and situations with­out ex­pla­na­tion occurs be­cause its setting is "the fab­ric of our times." If that's true, Taylor's fab­ric needs an iron, be­cause it's a mess.

Pho­tog­ra­pher Mi­chael Cunningham and jour­nal­ist Craig Marberry produced the book Crowns, which inspired the mu­si­cal, and women stare from its pages un­der toppers sleek and sophisticated, friv­o­lous and feath­ery. Be­side every por­trait, a sim­ple quo­ta­tion sums up each wom­an's per­spec­tive on hats. These are touch­ing and re­veal­ing, and they pro­vide his­tor­i­cal res­o­nance. Some of this his­to­ry made it into the staged ver­sion, and af­ter all Taylor's forced padding, those facts root­ed in time still res­o­nate.

Her six characters have names, but they are rare­ly used, and the cast's sole man is named Man (hon­ey-voiced Doug Es­kew, who deserves better). Dan­iel P. Boylen's set, a clut­ter of awk­ward screens shuffled around to re­ceive a se­ries of re­dun­dant projections, adds no depth. When the top­ic is death, we see a grave­yard and sun­set. In church, we see stained glass and a church's ex­te­ri­or.

There's a sto­ry of sorts. Ashlei Dab­ney's Yolanda, a Brook­lyn teen­ag­er, is sent to live with her grand­moth­er in South Caro­lina. It's un­clear which ac­tor plays her grand­moth­er, or who any of the women circling her and school­ing her in "hat queen" rules are. Even stranger, Yolanda's back­story includes her broth­er's mur­der. I'm not sure why this sub­plot about North­ern ur­ban gun vi­o­lence belongs in a show about South­ern church la­dies' hats, or, more se­ri­ous­ly, the pride and prej­u­dice be­hind them, but there it is, adding one more lay­er of con­fu­sion to what could have been a compelling top­ic. Any­way, Yolanda ul­ti­mate­ly accepts fan­cy hats and Je­sus, and every­one — who­ever they are — sings a gos­pel med­ley. Amen.

What Crowns lacks in co­her­ence, it makes up for in spir­it. The tal­ent­ed cast members pour every­thing they have into live­ly performances and 23 gos­pel songs, or fragments of songs be­tween mil­li­nery anecdotes, in 90 minutes. Cos­tum­er Brian Stra­chan also does his part to bol­ster the flim­sy pre­mise with a wide as­sort­ment of flow­ery, feath­ery, or fur-covered (can't be­gin to imag­ine where he dug up that fox-head num­ber) chapeaux.


Through April 29 at Dela­ware The­atre Company, 200 Wa­ter St., Wilmington. Tickets: $35-$49. In­for­ma­tion: 302-594-1100 or