“Too Heavy For Your Pocket.” February 7-23 at the Falk School of the University of Pittsburgh, 4060 Aliquippa Street. Shows run Friday through Sunday, with evening shows on Friday and Saturday, and matinees Saturday and Sunday. For tickets and more information, visit newhorizontheater.org.
By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
With the dawning of a new decade comes new chapters, new beginnings. What better way to start this new era than to put your best foot forward?
New Horizon Theater is doing just that by kicking off 2020 with Too Heavy For Your Pocket, a new play by Jiréh Holder. A 2016 graduate of the Yale School of Drama, Too Heavy For Your Pocket is Holder’s post-graduation debut play. He received the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award for the work in 2017.
“It’s the story of two young African-American couples in their twenties in 1961 Nashville, Tennessee,” said Herb Newsome, the production’s director.
Both couples seem to be on the road to a successful family life. One of the young women has just earned her cosmetology license, and her neighbor, Bowzie Brandon, has received a scholarship to a university, the first in his family to do so.
But while attending school, Brandon comes in contact with civil rights activists, who introduce him to the civil disobedience tactics that were the hallmarks of the movement. One of these practices was called “freedom riding,” in which African-American passengers would ride on the same buses as white people, challenging the non-enforcement of a Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation on public buses.
Brandon becomes an ardent supporter of the movement, but his activism puts him in a dilemma. He wants to take part in the freedom rides, to stand up for what he knows is right, but doing so would mean giving up his life-altering scholarship.
“We see the effects of that, what it is to stand up for what is right, as opposed to sitting back and doing what’s right for you,” said Newsome.
While the show is certainly a drama, and deals with a serious subject, there is a definite levity to the play, a humor that breaks up the show’s darker moments.
“It’s a serious theme and topic, but it’s a fun play too. You don’t really have drama without comedy, and you can’t have comedy without drama,” said Newsome.
In addition to directing the production, the idea to put “Too Heavy” on the New Horizon stage stemmed from Newsome. A resident of Los Angeles, Newsome saw a production of the play while there, and brought it to the attention of Joyce Meggerson-Moore, chair of the board at New Horizons.
“This is a show that I actually suggested they produce,” said Newsome. “I’d seen it in Los Angeles and it was amazing, and I was like, ‘I’ve got to direct this one day.’”
Once the play had been decided on, casting became the next priority. The four roles in the play are filled by a cast of highly talented, fresh-faced Pittsburghers: Brendon Peifer, Hope Anthony, Jadah Johnson and Maurice Redwood. Together, under Newsome’s direction, they hope to convey fully the power of Holder’s story, and leave audiences changed for the better.
“The goal is to get people to walk away touched, and walk away changed a little,” said Newsome. “[We want to] spark the conversation about some of these issues that we, at times, choose not to deal with, but they’re super important.”