Reviewed by Matt Ritchey
Too Heavy For Your Pocket, the West Coast Premiere of Jiréh Breon Holder’s fantastic play about two families in 1960’s Nashville, is a touching and emotional success on every level and a wonderful production by Sacred Fools.
The play is about the fragility of human beings, their dreams, and how hard love can be. Bowzie (Derek Jackson), the first man in his family to go to college, is suddenly confronted not only with a school full of privileged whites, but also privileged blacks, sons of lawyers and doctors with big ideas, who invite Bowzie to go on a Freedom Ride to Mississippi. His wife Evelyn (Jaquita Ta’le), who has supported him for years, is scared that he won’t make it back, and angry that he’s quitting school to do something that won’t make a difference and doesn’t take their marriage into account.
But Bowzie wants something more – he wants to be remembered for something, to be a part of something that his children can be proud of. His friends Sally (Kacie Rogers) and Tony (Shane Liburd) are dealing with the impending birth of their first child and Tony’s suspicious habit of coming home late at night. Both men are trying to become something more – Tony’s trying to bring in more money, prepare for a family, and battle his own problems of infidelity, while Bowzie is trying to be more and grow beyond the confines of a black community too afraid, to rise up against it even to reclaim their own collective dignity.
Holder’s language flows beautifully in the performances of the across-the-board stellar actors, from Jackson’s conflicted but determined Bowzie and Ta’le’s fierce musical passion, to Liburd’s raw Tony and Rogers’ strong Sally who soldiers on to keep everyone together. The play does a particularly wonderful job at highlighting the challenging role of women in society and the unrelenting emotional stress that they are under almost incessantly. It’s 1960’s Tennessee and while out shopping, pregnant Sally has to pass two bathrooms and walk down the street in an alley to squat and pee, as ‘coloreds’ aren’t allowed to use the white facilities. Society may have grown enough to overcome this kind of institutional racism, but the work and sacrifice Sally and Evelyn put into their daily lives as their men do whatever they feel is a stark reminder that still today we don’t value women the way they should be valued.
By the end, Bowzie’s been jailed with a bunch of rich, educated blacks who get bailed out, but he is left behind, with Evelyn refusing to answer his phone calls. He is beaten down and forgotten and only by luck gets a hold of his friends. But it’s Sally’s final moment that gives us the true theme – a parable about picking up a stone keeping it in your pocket and when nothing goes right, grab a hold of it and squeeze and think of one thing to be grateful for. “No matter if the whole world turn its back on you and don’t nothing go your way, there’s always something to be grateful for.
Michael A. Shepperd’s direction is inspired, using the small space to create not only multiple locations but character connections from disparate locations – a phone conversation between Bowzie and Evelyn takes what could easily be a static sequence and transforms it into a choreographed piece about a strained relationship. The music and vocal performance (also perfectly executed by the cast) is skin-tinglingly good.
Set (Alex Calle), lights (Matt Richter), sound (Jaime Robledo) and original music score (Michael Teoli) for the show are also impressive, a period-realistic kitchen transforming simply and fluidly to multiple locations lit by a warm Southern color palette and a bluesy, spiritual transition soundtrack.
Written by Jiréh Breon Holder
Directed by Michael A. Shepperd
Produced by Scott Golden and Associate Producer K.J. Middlebrooks
Starring: Kacie Rogers as Sally, Derek Jackson as Bowzie, Shane Liburd as Tony
Jaquita Ta’le as Evelyn
Photo (above) by Matt Kamimura:(L to R) Derek Jackson and Kacie Rogers
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