Too Heavy for Your Pocket
The world premiere of "Too Heavy For Your Pocket" on the Alliance Theatre Hertz Stage brings us a masterfully presented story about the fight against racial injustice and its impacts. Centered on a rural Nashville family, it explores tensions between survival and safety.
As married couples, Bowzie, Evelyn, Tony and Sally forge a family unit of four, supporting each other emotionally and sharing resources without hesitation. This is as much a result of growing up working class as it is a feature of the community. As more or less normalized to segregation, collectivism prevails, which each character enacts in different ways.
Bowzie, played by Stephen Ruffin, is a new student at Fisk University who decides to participate as a Freedom Rider, at great risk to himself. Bowzie's loud persona at home is suddenly stifled in an academic environment, feeling intimidated by his upper-class peers.
Ruffin navigates these two modes with ease, and bridges the gap seamlessly. Ruffin's charisma shines and his attention to detail makes wordless moments stand out as much as his epistolary monologues, delivered directly from a spotlit section among the audience.
Evelyn, played by Eboni Flowers, is Bowzie's wife who deeply resents his decision to leave school and engage in the movement. Her concerns are not cast off as misplaced, as we come to fully understand the stakes for her.
Flowers demonstrates her talents as an actor and a singer, as Evelyn must return to her old job to make ends meet. The emotional depth and ease with vulnerability that Flowers shows is essential to understanding Evelyn and appreciating her growth.
Bowzie's best friend Tony, played by Rob Demery, serves as a counterpoint in several ways. Tony more closely represents the kind of man that the Freedom Riders seek to advocate for, as someone working class, less educated, and more likely to be perceived as threatening by white society.
Demery is steadfast and tender, in moments on the phone with Bowzie and alone with his wife, Sally, played by Markita Prescott. Time and again, Demery allows Tony to have a natural sense of empathy in the ways he shows up for each of the other characters.
Sally, as an expectant mother, appears timid and unassuming yet has strong convictions. As a foil for Tony and Evelyn, her deeply held Christian values foster compassion and support for Bowzie.
Prescott is forthcoming in her emotions and possesses a quiet fierceness that shows in Sally's confrontations with Tony and Evelyn. Moments with Evelyn are particularly stirring, as Sally explains that flowers need rain to grow as much as sun.
Each character enacts morality in unique ways. Sally explicitly references religion as a compass more than the others, despite church's central role in their lives. Tony is driven by tangible ways to provide, while Evelyn seems focused on respectability and survival until an experience forces her attention towards the heart of Bowzie's fight.
All of the characters, however, put faith in social institutions like church, family, marriage, work and school. They lean into them as markers of normalcy, genuinely believing in an American Dream within their reach. Until Bowsie takes a stand, they yield to the reality of living apart from white society without enjoying the same privileges.
"Too Heavy For Your Pocket" reflects an important moment politically -- and thus, in theatre -- as more nuanced conversations about race become commonplace. Playwright Jiréh Beron Holder addresses realities that are sometimes left out in our typical education about the Civil Rights Movement, while weaving a stirring narrative about four people in the most pivotal times of their lives.
"Too Heavy For Your Pocket" runs through February 26 at the Alliance Theatre Hertz Stage, 1280 Peachtree Street NE in Atlanta. For tickets or information, call 404-733-5000 or visit alliancetheatre.org.