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Theater Review: The Red Suitcase

Tiago Santos, Pam Trotter, Emerson Collins and Mat Hayes in The Red Suitcase. Photo by Dlugolecki. Photography.

The world premiere production of The Red Suitcase tells the sweeping story of Pogue (Emerson Collins), from his harrowing and overdue birth through a rough childhood, coming out, and adulthood. Throughout, he carries a red suitcase, representing his life experiences; he fills and unpacks it in a heartfelt if uneven two and a half hours.

Even before Pogue’s aware himself of his destiny as a gay man, his father and brother have seized on what they see as “sissy” and “pansy” tendencies and used them as an excuse to persecute and abuse him. His teacher Mrs. Prig (Pam Trotter) seems to be offended by every word Pogue utters. The extensive punishment and bullying by these three, who should be nurturing a young child, make up a lot of the red suitcase’s contents.

The cruelty is balanced by kindness from Grandmother Evans (Charlotte Louise White), new kid in school Charlie (Mat Hayes) and family employee Martin (Tiago Santos), who gives young Pogue the kind of fatherly messages his own father has replaced with a whoopin.’ Pogue’s mother April (Kristen McCullough) wails against the corporal punishment, but ultimately is powerless.

Tiago Santos, Emerson Collins and Bruce Melena in The Red Suitcase. Photo by Dlugolecki Photography.

Grandmother Evans explains that the red suitcase belonged to her other son, Robbie, who died before Pogue was born, giving it more heft. Suitcases fill the stage and are cleverly utilized as props, building modes of transportation and different pieces of furniture in the scenes from kitchen to classroom to automobile.

Bruce Melina as Pogue’s father Bud is a standout, convincingly terrifying as both a homophobic abuser and a caring dad. As the largest presence in Pogue’s life, his influence must be addressed. And when it is, The Red Suitcase comes together, clearly stating its message and bringing much-needed closure.

Kristen McCullough and Bruce Melena in The Red Suitcase. Photo by Dlugolecki Photography.

The play won Jiggs Burgess the inaugural Del Shores Foundation Play Production Grant and Del Shores directs.

The Red Suitcase runs through Sept. 3 at the Broadwater Mainstage Theatre, 1076 Lillian Way. Show times are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 2:00pm. Tickets are $38. For tickets visit

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Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen
Laura Foti Cohen has lived in the Brookside neighborhood since 1993. She works as a freelance writer, editor and consultant. She's also a playwright affiliated with Theatre West.

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  1. Thank you Laura. Your review is greatly appreciated. It’s been an amazing journey with Del, Jiggs and the entire cast and crew.


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