“This moment, I see a man.”
There is hopefulness amid the harsh and inhumane treatment of Bowzie Brandon (Jalen Gilbert), the Freedom Rider at the center of Jiréh Breon Holder’s “Too Heavy For Your Pocket,” now in its Chicago premiere at TimeLine Theatre Company. It lives in the crusading spirit that compels him to join the protest movement against discrimination and segregation, spurning an educational opportunity he has earned for a cause greater than himself. We feel it in the anguish of his incarceration in deplorable conditions, the frustration in his voice in response to the unanswered calls to his wife Evelyn (Ayanna Bria Bakari), the mounting fear in his letters to his friend Sally-Mae Carter (Jennifer Latimore) and the utter disbelief that his lifelong friend Tony Carter (Cage Sebastian Pierre) may have betrayed his trust.
Director Ron OJ Parson, whose cousin was a Freedom Rider of the era, and a rich, vibrant cast artfully illuminate Holder’s absorbing study of the relationship between two couples consumed with a sense of purpose that is uniquely of the moment—characters seemingly plucked out of a town near Nashville in 1961 to tell a story of struggle against racial inequality.
Sally-Mae is pregnant and about to receive her degree in cosmetology as she copes with Tony’s free-spirited nature when it comes to carousing and gambling. The boisterous Evelyn provides lighthearted guidance to her about keeping their men in line. Bowzie has been accepted to a summer-prep program in advance of receiving a full scholarship to a prominent African-American university. Through Parson’s adept direction, we discover the beautifully defined nature of these four characters—their jubilation, kinship, insecurities and unbridled love for each other.
Things begin to unravel for the couples when Bowzie, who has been attending rallies to fit into the campus culture, announces that he will skip his education for now to join the movement. Evelyn recoils in fear and anguish, so devastated by Bowzie’s decision that she turns her back on him. Sally-Mae attempts to intercede with Evelyn, but both women realize and accept that Bowzie will not be swayed. Ultimately, in a poignant exchange when Bowzie shares his reasoning, Sally-Mae empowers him by saying, “This moment, I see a man.”
The apprehension caused by Bowzie’s departure disrupts the balance of the friendship of those who are left behind. Evelyn sinks into depression and isolation, contemplating life alone. Tony spends more and more time away from Sally-Mae, for reasons unknown, which only serves to increase her anxiety and resentment. All the while, Bowzie’s noble crusade in the name of freedom spirals dangerously out of control, which leaves the future of the cause and the couples’ familial bond in jeopardy.
José Manuel Diaz-Soto has created a period-perfect design, set in and around the Carter home, richly enhanced by Maggie Fullilove-Nugent’s lighting and stunning Alexia Rutherford costumes—particularly an array of stylized ensembles for Bakari and Latimore. Christopher Kriz, who provides original music in addition to sound design, with music director Jermaine Hill and special musical material by Ian Scot with Holder lyrics, add to Parson’s brilliant tapestry—a compelling reminder of the enormous courage and sacrifice by Freedom Rider activists of all races and religions during the civil rights movement in the early 1960s and how these events shape and influence the dialogue in America today.
TIMELINE THEATRE COMPANY
TOO HEAVY FOR YOUR POCKET
through June 29th
615 W. Wellington
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