You know you’ve experienced great art when twenty-four hours after viewing a play, you’re still thinking about it. It still resonates inside you. Ensemble Theatre’s production of Too Heavy for Your Pocket did just that; I can say with zero hesitation that it’s one of the best plays that I’ve seen in a long time. I struggle to think of a play that fired on all cylinders quite
Written by Jiréh Breon Holder, Too Heavy for Your Pocket takes place in the tumultuous 1960s at the height of the civil rights movement. Bowzie Brandon (Kendrick “KayB” Brown) has just received a scholarship to Fisk University, however, his future is thrown into question when he decides to join the Freedom Riders civil rights activists who rode interstate buses across the south.
While the Supreme Court had already ruled that segregated public buses were unconstitutional, that ruling nonetheless had failed to be implemented at the local level in the segregated south. Activists were often beaten, arrested, or terrorized by the Ku Klux Klan and often, law enforcement wouldn’t do anything to protect them. This creates a large source of the conflict in Holder’s play as Bowzie’s wife Evelyn (Lakeisha Randle) is vehemently opposed to him putting his education on hold to put his life on the line.
Too Heavy for Your Pocket is an intimate production that relies on just four characters. Much of the play takes place in Sally-Mae (Yunina Barbour-Payne) and Tony’s (Kedrick Brown) home, and all four characters are remarkably fleshed out. Each has their own unique, complex relationship with each of the other three, and each of the cast members is remarkably talented. It’s a testament to the strength of their performances that together, they incite a range of laughs and heart wrenching moments with the audience. Each character struggles with something different within themselves and with each other, and it’s perhaps the multiple plates being juggled effectively that make this such an impressive show: So many things are going on at once within these characters and the setting’s the overarching historical significance.
At the core of Too Heavy for Your Pocket is sacrifice, and Bowzie’s struggle between seeking justice and leaving those most dear to him was gripping to watch unfold. Ultimately, we witness how the fight for civil rights affects these characters on an individual level, and how it impacted their relationships with each other.
With the amount that there is to unpack in this play, some things could get lost without strong direction at the helm. Eileen J Morris did a remarkable job in guiding the show; her direction showed and was prevalent throughout. I can’t stress enough how strongly I recommend seeing this play. If The Ensemble Theatre continues making art of the same caliber as Too Heavy for Your Pocket, they’re going to have one hell of a year.