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Celebrated Director Ron OJ Parson brings Civil Rights Play to TimeLine

TimeLine Theatre Company announces the cast and creative team for the Chicago premiere of “Too Heavy for Your Pocket,” which doubles as the Chicago debut of rising young playwright and TV writer Jiréh Breon Holder, recently named one of “Tomorrow’s Marquee Names, Now in the Making” by The New York Times.

Set during the height of the Civil Rights Movement, “Too Heavy for Your Pocket” is a captivating and complicated tale about the intersection of family, responsibility, and progress. Previously seen at Atlanta’s Alliance Theatre and in an extended Off Broadway run at Roundabout Theatre, Holder’s riveting new play was hailed “an exceptional work, one that will dive-bomb into your head and your heart” (Talkin’ Broadway) and a story “that examines life on both the margins and at the epicenter of historic change” (Stage Left).

TimeLine Company Member Ron OJ Parson will direct TimeLine’s Chicago debut of “Too Heavy for Your Pocket.” Named one of Chicago’s most “in demand directors” by Chicago magazine (February 2019), Parson’s credits at TimeLine include Brett Neveu’s “To Catch a Fish,” Dominique Morisseau’s “Paradise Blue” and “Sunset Baby,” and Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” Right before helming TimeLine’s “Too Heavy for Your Pocket,” Parson is also directing back-to-back productions of August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” for Writers Theatre and “Sweat” by Lynn Nottage at Goodman.

I wrote about Parson in 2016, and he was juggling two plays at that time, as well. His live theatre legacy runs many years, even when many productions were strictly geared toward white audiences or, on the other hand, toward Black audiences. Diversity is the word, now, since an audience member can see a Black woman playing one of the sisters in Anton Chekhov’s “Three Sisters” or, as in “Hamilton,” a tall Black guy playing one of the founding fathers, George Washington. “There is more diversity in casting at many theatres, now, and the audiences have grown since I moved to Chicago in 1994,” said Parson during a 2016 interview. He says he doesn’t necessarily pick the plays that he directs, but playwrights or theatres may seek out his expertise. “I usually don’t pick plays, they pick me. I wish I had the luxury of picking every play I direct,” he says.

RON OJ PARSON and Crusader columnist Elaine Hegwood Bowen take a photo during last year’s run of August Wilson’s “Radio Golf” at the Court Theatre.

Parson said that a strong marketing plan also helps in making a production successful, but marketing has to be aimed at all segments of the theatre-going population. He says that a good director will bring the full experience to bear when working with a play and cast members. “No one wants to be pigeonholed and limited, and the fact that I am Black makes me a Black director, but I don’t just direct plays for people of color.” Parson stressed the importance of reality-based theatre productions. “We need to represent the world we live in. In order to attract younger audiences, diversity must be a part of the dynamic of theatre,” he said. “It opens up many opportunities that otherwise would be lost and neglected.”

The play brings the early Civil Rights Movement “up close and personal” (Deadline), resulting in a powerful look at the tenuous balance between security and risk, the bonds of love and friendship, and the personal cost of progress.

Holder’s story centers on Bowzie Brandon, his wife Evelyn, and their best friends Tony and Sally, who all see happiness on the horizon when Bowzie gets a college scholarship and a chance to improve his family’s life. However, when the opportunity to become a Freedom Rider arises, Bowzie leaves his obligations as a husband and friend behind to join the fight against racism in the Deep South.

The “Too Heavy for Your Pocket” cast, all making their TimeLine debuts, features Jalen Gilbert (he/him, playing Bowzie), Ayanna Bria Bakari (she/her, as Evelyn), Jennifer Latimore (she/her, as Sally Mae), and Cage Sebastian Pierre (he/him, as Tony).

Gilbert was previously seen in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and “East Texas Hot Links” at Writers Theatre and “Mies Julie” at Victory Gardens. Bakari recently co-starred in “How to Catch Creation” at Goodman Theatre. She also has performed at Victory Gardens, 16th Street Theatre, The New Colony, and in Stage Left’s Jeff-nominated Insurrection: “Holding History.” Both Gilbert and Bakari are graduates of The Theatre School at DePaul University. Latimore was recently seen in “The Importance of Being Earnest” and as Viola in “Twelfth Night Or What You Will” at Writers Theatre. Other local credits are Court Theatre’s “Harvey” and Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost” and “Macbeth.” Pierre also appeared in Macbeth, as well as “Q Brothers Christmas Carol” and Short Shakes! “Romeo and Juliet” at Chicago Shakespeare, and “A Moon for the Misbegotten” at Writers Theatre.

“Too Heavy for Your Pocket” begins previews on April 24. Performances run through June 29 at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave., Chicago. For tickets and information, visit or call the TimeLine Box Office at (773) 281-8463 x6. TimeLine Theatre is located inside the Wellington Avenue United Church of Christ building. The Theatre is served by multiple CTA trains and buses. TimeLine offers discounted parking at the Laz parking garage at Broadway Center ($8 with validation; 2846 N. Broadway, at Surf) or the Century Mall ($9 with validation; 2836 N. Clark), with other paid parking options nearby, plus limited free and metered street parking.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen is the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago.” For book information or email: editor- [email protected]

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