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A CurtainUp Review
Too Heavy for Your Pocket

I can't think of nothing on God's earth that could possibly make Evelyn more proud than you being the first man in this whole neighborhood to go to college. — Sally
too heavy
Nneka Okafor and Hampton Fluker (photo: Jeremy Daniel)
Full Disclosure: Due to circumstances beyond my control— a delay on the subway line caused by construction work — I arrived at the Roundabout's Black Box Theatre a few minutes after Jiréh Breon Holder's play Too Heavy for Your Pocket had begun. The press agent, however, was still patiently waiting for me and escorted me to a series of ushers who would guide me and a few other late-comers to a holding zone where we waited to be seated at a suitable break. The wait was short but still panting from my sprint I was led to my seat in the back row just as the next scene began.

So far so good, that is except that the woman sitting directly in front of me was not only more than six feet tall but whose elaborate hairdo added additional height blocking much of my view of the stage. All would not be lost as I simply decided to stand up in the narrow passage behind my seat. Having been sent the script, I knew I could easily read what I missed on the way home.

In less than a minute, however, an usher quietly approached me in the dark and whispered I was standing exactly where the actors would be moving about during the play. I quietly replied that I would remain where I was in order to see but promised to hug the back of my seat not to take up more space. The actors did indeed breeze past me on occasion during the play as I stood motionless holding my breath.

So why am I telling all this? Because I haven't stood to watch a play for many years. It can be a trial if the play isn't good. I did take my seat during the play's one intermission. More important: I was happy to be standing for a play that was not only quite good but had me immediately involved.

A terrific cast of four, under the sterling direction of Margot Bordelson must be credited for making this play a thoroughly worthwhile and memorable experience. This is one time that I could remain standing during the applause.

As a graduate from the Yale School of Drama, Holder shows us that his talent has been craftily deployed in his play that's now having its New York premiere and wasinspired by his family history. He has created four closely connected characters caught up in domestic quandaries that involve misplaced passion and misguided loyalties amidst the encroaching socio-political changes of the time. Each is integral and well-defined within a compelling narrative that is mainly revealed through a young man with a mission.

The action takes place in Nashville, Tennessee during the summer of 1961. This is shortly after segregation was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.

Holder's play revolves around the closely knit relationship of two couples. At its center is Bowzie Brandon (Brandon Gill), an intensely motivated young black man intent on leaving his home, his wife and friends and leap into the burgeoning activities of the Freedom Riders.

These are the men and women, both black and white, who braved the backlash of racism by riding on buses through cities that did not welcome integration. Standing up to this resistance, the Freedom Riders were denounced as trouble-makers. They were assaulted and pelted by massed intolerant bigots, but they were also brutalized by the local police after being arrested taken to filthy jails, many without money for bail staying for months.

The extraordinarily bright Bowzie has barely begun his first semester at Fisk University to which he has won a full tuition scholarship when he is recruited into a group of peaceful activists. This news is not received well by his wife Evelyn (Eboni Flowers) or by their best friends Sally-Mae (Nneka Okafor) and her husband Tony (Hampton Fluker) who has been Bowzie's best friend since childhood.

While the play circles around the domestic anxieties of the pregnant Sally Mae and her philandering husband Tony, it is Evelyn's fear that Bowzie's commitment to the movement has replaced his concerns and devotion to her. I am hard-pressed to single out individual performances as these four actors so completely inhabit their complex but also warmly, conceived characters. A good mix of the comedic and the explosive offers dramatic contrast throughout.

The action is cleverly staged in and around the kitchen setting that allows for other locations. It is the feeling of home and kinship that pervades even as we see how impulsive decisions, no matter how righteous and well-meaning they are, alter perspectives. If bringing to the fore who these beautiful if ordinary people are and relate to each other defines the richness of the play, then at its core is how the Civil Rights Movement directly and indirectly enables four people to see their own personal light either through sacrifice or self-determination or both.

No reserved seats here so arrive in time and enjoy.

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Too Heavy for Your Pocket by Jiréh Breon Holder
Directed by Margot Bordelon

Cast: Eboni Flowers (Evelyn Brandon), Hampton Fluker (Tony Carter), Brandon Gill (Bowzie Brandon), Nneka Okafor (Sally-Mae Carter)
Set Design: Reid Thompson
Costume Design: Valérie Thérèse Bart
Lighting Design: Jiyoun Chang
Sound Design: Ian Scot
Production Stage Manager: Katherine Wallace
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
Black Box Theatre in the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111West 46th Street

Tickets: $25
From 09/15/17 Opened 10/05/17 Ends 11/26/17
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 09/30/17

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