This Bitter Earth – Review by Bonnie Goldberg

The lyrics to the song “What the world needs now is love sweet love” is no more true than in the tale of Jesse and Neil, who meet at a time when their relationship is questioned and threatened. Being black and gay has never been an easy path for Jesse and meeting the privileged white Neil seems a welcome gift to his world. Until Sunday, March 20, TheaterWorks Hartford is focusing an intense spotlight on their lives in Harrison David Rivers’ emotionally powerful and deeply personal “This Bitter Earth.”

Despite the progress we have made in race relationships, through the civil rights movement, and embracing Black Lives Matter, the world still has a long way to go in acceptance. We are not color blind and race still divides rather than unites us. Damian Thompson’s Jesse and Tom Holcomb’s Neil still have mountains to conquer in their quest to be accepted. They struggle to find a footing in their daily lives and in the community in which they live.

They discover their own families may not be the supportive allies they’d hoped for and their personal problems may cause issues. Neil has become an activist, proudly fighting for Jesse’s rights while Jesse is reluctant to enter the fray. Do they dare to embrace love in these complex and disturbing times?

From the two men we learn certain truths: life is precious; prayers and love don’t stop bullets; love someone for the way they are; take care of your blessings. They talk directly to the audience effectively breaking the fourth wall, confessing their fears and embracing their dreams. David Mendizabal directs this intimate encounter of two men as they stand together to proudly face down the universe.

For tickets ($25-65), call TheaterWorks Hartford, 233 Pearl Street, Hartford at 860-527-7838 or go online at Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. You can order streaming from March 7-20. Remember to bring proof of vaccination or a recent COVID test and wear a mask.

Hopefully a world where love sweet love exists is just over the horizon.