Tucked away in the sub-basement of the Roundabout Underground in Times Square, just a few blocks away from where some are paying otherworldly ticket prices for "Hamilton" or Bruce Springsteen's one man show, may be one of Off-Broadway's best kept secrets.
"Too Heavy For Your Pocket," a new play written by Jiréh Breon Holder starring Brandon Gill, Hampton Fluker, Eboni Flowers and Nneka Okafor, was just extended one week and will now conclude its run at Roundabout's Black Box Theatre on Nov. 26. The play chronicles the lives of two African American couples in the early 1960's during the heat of the civil rights movement. Their futures are thrown into turmoil after one of their group decides to forsake a life-altering college scholarship to join the Freedom Riders.
The original Freedom Riders consisted of 13 African American and white civil rights activists who launched the Freedom Rides on May 4, 1961 -- a movement that consisted of a series of bus trips through the American South to protest segregation in interstate bus terminals. The Freedom Riders attempted to integrate facilities at bus terminals along the way into the Deep South. African American Freedom Riders tried to use “whites-only” restrooms and lunch counters, encountering violence from white protesters along the route while drawing international attention to their cause.
Gill, who the plays the character of Bowzie Brandon, was introduced to the project when the playwright said the part was written specifically with him in mind.
"The writer was a friend first and he writes to your strengths. So there are a lot of characteristics between Bowzie and myself that we definitely share," Brandon says. "There are similarities in terms of being a dreamer and wanting to reach outside the little space that you grew up in."
Flowers, who plays Gill's bold and sassy wife Evelyn, says the material spoke to her in a deeply instinctual way.
"As a southerner, especially being from Montgomery, I feel like these conversations and dialogue were always prevalent in my family," she says. "So I was familiar with Dr. King's journey and that of the Freedom Riders and the four little girls [murdered on Sept. 15, 1963 after a bomb detonated beneath the steps of the 16th Street Baptist Church]. These have always been active conversations in my family. So this is just a deeper dive into the narrative."
Both performers believe that while the play focuses on the events of the 1960s, it has never been more relevant than it is today, in 2017, as professional athletes take a knee in the face of social injustices and women across the country speak out against sexual harassment and abuse in the form of the #MeToo movement.
"There's never an opportune time for people of color to speak out against adversity," says Gill. " It always seem an inconvenience to privilege or disrespectful in some way. At the same time it has to be done. So just do it when you're ready."
Adds Flowers, "It doesn’t stop with the Freedom Riders. They are part of a much bigger picture. I think about #MeToo and the women's struggle that’s happening right now with being transparent about things that have been going on. There are so many different things to be active about, including being a black person, and the things that we need and want and the dignity that we continue to fight for."
The extension week will include three special performances reserved for New York City students from schools affiliated with Roundabout's expansive education program. Information regarding tickets for the show can be found on the Roundabout website.