Jiréh Breon Holder’s “Too Heavy for Your Pocket,” under the direction of LA Williams, is the final production in George Street Playhouse’s temporary space on the Cook Campus of Rutgers University. It is a beautifully-written capstone on a brilliant run in that space, as George Street prepares to open its brand new facility in September. This show is a journey back in time to 1961, during the time of the Freedom Rides, where we can now see how much, and how little, has changed in our culture and the world.
The main character in this show is Bowzie Brandon (Donnell E. Smith), a young black man who has been accepted into and given a scholarship for tuition to historically African American Fisk University in his native Nashville. Yet it is also about the ensemble of people who surround him with love and support. His wife Evelyn (Felicia Boswell) is a singer, whose work puts food on the table while he’s thinking deep thoughts. His friend since childhood, Sally-Mae (Joniece Abbott-Pratt), who is a devout Christian woman, and her husband, Tony Carter (Landon G. Woodson), treat him like a brother and the gleesome foursome are full of thoughts for the future. After all, Tony and Sally-Mae are expecting and, with Bowzie off to college, it seems the sky is the limit. And then Bowzie’s world opens up to events greater than Nashville when he starts to attend “night meetings” and gets involved with the Freedom Riders.
Bowzie’s personal struggle, and the struggles of those that he holds most dear, are all told in a vignette style that has a basis in personal stories that Holder collected when visiting family and family friends, who were involved in the Freedom Rides. Traditional theatre attendees may find the lack of transitions somewhat discordant, but those who are familiar with streaming services will be very much at home. This amazing ensemble has it all. Boswell displays her gorgeous voice early on and we await opportunities to enjoy it throughout the show. There is a musical break with the cast that is very memorable. New Jersey native Woodson brings great skill to a very complicated role, showing us that a man’s actions in adulthood often have grounding in his upbringing, the child truly being the father to the man. Abbott-Pratt’s Sally-Mae is spot on perfect–she’s Madonna with child and she is the heart of the group. Yet it is Smith, giving us depth, angst, and a healthy dose of be-careful-what-you-ask-for, that is all worthwhile, as his sacrifice is for generations yet to come. Bring a hankie, and buckle up–this play is truly an experience that will have you on your feet.
The show runs now through May 19. Mother’s Day is right around the corner, give an experience that will last a lifetime! Get your tickets at www.GeorgeStreetPlayhouse.org