‘Too Heavy For Your Pocket’ tells the story of the Freedom Riders

by Genea L. Webb, For New Pittsburgh Courier

New Horizon Theater newcomers Brenden Peifer and Hope Anthony are ready to sink their teeth into the meaty, yet relatable roles of Tony Carter and Evelyn Brandon in the production, “Too Heavy For Your Pocket.”

“It’s such a strongly written play because it’s so ensemble-based and it’s tough to pick out one main character from my perspective,” Peifer said. “The story is about Bowzie Brandon but the three other characters that are involved are just so heavily involved, and the dynamic between their relationships was so fascinating that to me it didn’t seem like there was any sort of supporting role. Everybody is their own leading man or woman.”

The main character of Bowzie Brandon is being played by Maurice Redwood, who was last seen in New Horizon Theater’s “Front Porch Society.” The character of Sally-Mae Carter is being played by another New Horizon newcomer newcomer, Jadah Johnson.

As for Peifer, he was born in Virginia, but now calls Pittsburgh home after graduating last April from Pitt with a bachelor’s in acting. In preparation to portray Tony Carter, Peifer studied his own grandfather’s mannerisms to give the character depth.

“I spoke with my grandfather a lot because he was alive in the ‘60s and he was a plumber and a construction worker, and when I got this role I felt like I knew this man and this role is going to sort of be like paying homage to the blue-collar side of my family history.”

Peifer said his grandfather worked tirelessly to provide for his family, which allowed his daughters to go to college. “And that translated to me,” he said.

The play’s themes about love and family are what drew in Anthony, who plays Evelyn Brandon.

“The play itself is so wonderful, how it opens up about family and love and freedom and what’s your version of freedom and what’s your version of success,” she said.

To prepare as the feisty Evelyn Brandon, Anthony looked to the strong women—in particular, her mother—who raised children alone.

“I’ve never had a child but I know many strong women who have gone through it and on top of that, dealing with hormones, what’s happening in society, and how much stress they go through,” Anthony said. “My own mom is a single mom so I closely have watched her through life do her thing. I think every mother, every person who has that fire in them and wants to change the world will really get into this show.”

Anthony, who’s from the West End, graduated from Point Park University in 2015 with a musical theater degree.

Opening Friday, Feb. 7 and running through Feb. 23, “Too Heavy For Your Pocket” is set in the summer of 1961 when the Freedom Riders were embarking on a courageous journey into the deep South. When 20-year-old Bowzie Brandon gives up a life-changing college scholarship to join the movement, he’ll have to convince his loved ones and himself that shaping his country’s future may be worth jeopardizing his own.

The production is being directed by Herb Newsome (who just finished his one-man play, “Break it Down” for New Horizon Theater last month). It is written by the Tennessee-born Jireh Breon Holder, who graduated from Yale School of Drama in 2016. “Too Heavy For Your Pocket” snagged the 2017 Laurents/Hatcher Foundation award.

“The audience is used to us having a real historical piece in February. We had ‘Detroit ‘67’ and ‘The Ballad of Emmett Till,’ so this play is about the Freedom Riders and it fit into our Black History Month production,” New Horizon Theater Chairperson Joyce Meggerson-Moore said. “I hope that the audience will walk away with keeping the history alive. Some people might think it’s not important, but I think it’s important that people remember the history and want to keep it alive for themselves, their children and their grandchildren. A lot of the people that were in the Civil Rights Movement were young people. I think Dr. King was only 26 years old when he started. People will see that they can depend on young people to pick up the mantle.”

“Too Heavy For Your Pocket” will be performed at the University of Pittsburgh’s Falk School, 4060 Allequippa St. Tickets for the production are $20 general admission and $15 for seniors and students. Special rates are available for groups of 10 or more (each member of the group must attend the same performance).

Parking is available at the Veterans Administration hospital. Parking passes can be obtained at the entrance to the theater. Tickets can be purchased through brownpapertickets.com, Dorsey’s Digital Imaging or by calling 412-431-0773.

“February, the month itself, can be cold and dark, but people will enjoy seeing the reenactment of Black History events and they want to know and remember that these things have happened,” Meggerson-Moore said. “They will enjoy seeing this.”

(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: THE CAST—Left to right, it’s Maurice Redwood, Jadah Johnson, Hope Anthony and Brenden Peifer in “Too Heavy For Your Pocket.” Photo by Lionness Photography)

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