While Troubadour kicked off the new year with rhinestones and rockin' original country music, another historic Nashville-centered show has been taking shape downstairs on the Hertz Stage. Winner of the 2017 Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition, Too Heavy for Your Pocket centers around two married couples in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement. Bowzie, a young black man, receives a full scholarship to Fisk University. But when word of the Freedom Rides in the South infiltrates the classroom, he becomes pulled in another direction. What path will he take? What are the repercussions of this decision?
Here are five reasons why you need to catch this world premiere production:
1) Hometown Hero, Jiréh Breon Holder
A graduate of Atlanta's Morehouse College, Jiréh Breon Holder is no stranger to the city. In fact, while he was an undergrad in college, he interned and became a Kenny Leon Fellow at the Alliance before receiving his MFA in Playwrighting from the Yale School of Drama. When asked about why he wrote this play, he mentions that we was determined to enter a new play into the Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Playwriting Competition specifically. For extra motivation, he says he acted as if the Alliance commissioned him to write it. The submission process was completely blind, but the work stood for itself and Too Heavy for Your Pocket was chosen.
2) Top-Notch Cast and Direction
Two strong Atlanta-based actors, Stephen Ruffin and Rob Demery, as well as two outstanding out-of-towners, Markita Prescott and Eboni Flowers, round out a tremendous ensemble for the play. Each actor gets their chance to shine—a testament to their talent in addition to the writing. Tensions are high and bits of comedic relief are thrown in for a more realistic portrayal of the characters. Director Margot Bordelon unique staging makes impressive use of the black box space, using the audience stairways and entrances for more dynamic scenes. You'll laugh and maybe shed a few tears during this powerful performance.
3) Kendeda Winner
The Alliance/Kendeda National Graduate Competition is an important initiative for emerging new playwrights. Once the script is chosen as a winner, the Alliance provides the playwright with tons of resources and insight into the professional world, including some areas not previously explored by the writer. Jiréh found the meetings about marketing the show as eye-opening experiences. After the competition, many of the playwrights go on to bustling careers. Previous winners include Tarell Alvin McCraney, whose script In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue inspired the Academy Award nominated film Moonlight, and Ken Lin, a writer on the hit Neflix series House of Cards.
4) That Tech, Though
Beautiful period costumes designed by Sydney Roberts melt into a sweeping, picturesque scenery of a rustic home and a vibrant grassy lawn designed by Reid Thompson. Sounds and tunes from the early 60s, designed by Elisheba Ittoop, fill the home and the hearts of the characters. The lighting design of Liz Lee gives an eerie context to the prison scenes. All elements work in harmony to provide an engaging and delightful look into this important time period in history.
5) Off-Broadway, Here We Come
When a play premieres at the Alliance, the hope is that it gets another production somewhere else. And Too Heavy for Your Pocket has already booked another city—New York City, to be exact. As the winner of the Laurents/Hatcher Foundation Award, the Roundabout Theatre Company will present Jiréh's play in an Off-Broadway theatre as part of their upcoming 17/18 season. Meaning, this play is about to garner much more attention very soon. You can catch it here first and have the bragging rights of declaring "I saw it when it first premiered..."
By A'riel Tinter, Brand Journalist