This Bitter Earth: New Play Grapples With Love, Race & Black Lives Matter
Now playing at New Conservatory Theater Center through October 22, Harrison David Rivers’ new play This Bitter Earth touches upon many hot button issues, albeit with a depth and sensitivity which might inspire audiences to engage in thoughtful dialogues about the Black Lives Matter movement.
The play follows the brief, intense love affair between gay couple Jesse (H. Adam Harris) and Neil (Michael Hanna). Jesse is an African American writer who only dates white guys. “Black guys don’t like me,” he says.
Neil is a wealthy white trust fund baby who lends his time to a variety of civil rights causes, including the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s love at first sight when the two meet at a BLM march. And though their love is deep and genuine, its not without its problems.
As Neil immerses himself further and further into activist work, Jesse chooses to stay home and write. As horrific incidents like the killing of Trayvon Martin or the mass shooting at an African American church by white supremacist Dylann Roof make the news, playwright Rivers raises questions about the price of apathy.
Other questions are raised: Neil expresses his very real fears that Jesse, a Black man in 21st Century America, could get shot for doing nothing more than leaving the house to perform mundane, everyday errands. More issues are explored, including Neil’s white privilege and his reasons for getting so involved in African American causes.
Harris and Hanna command the stage in this two character drama. As the action moves back and forth in time, they run on and off the stage for some of the quickest costume stages audiences will see. Hanna, who has long thick hair, regularly ties his hair back for one scene, then lets it fall to his shoulders for another, an effective means of letting the audience know that the story has shifted to another date and time.
Both actors are sensational together–they create a chemistry which alternates between love, sexual attraction and anguish. These are superb actors, both of whom remain in the moment for every scene and every word of this riveting and important show.
Video projection serves to establish where Jesse and Neil are as the action progresses–a BLM protest, a cold, snowy street in New York City, or their apartment. The actors play out their scenes in front of these artificial images, bringing the locations to life.
At a time in our history when Americans are so divided, its important that works like This Bitter Earth are written and seen. In talking about the things which divide us, we just might heal the wounds and come together.