Set within the turbulent time period in U.S. history between March 21, 2012 and December 15, 2015, This Bitter Earth tells the story of an interracial gay couple that faces the political reality of police brutality against Black bodies as it continuously fractures and evolves their relationship. Jesse (Damian Thompson), a Black playwright trying to live his life in spite of systemic racism, is confronted by his white, activist boyfriend Neil (Tom Holcomb) for being politically apathetic to the burgeoning Black Lives Matter movement surrounding them. Over the course of the show’s runtime, we see playwright Harrison David Rivers and director David Mendizábal’s vision of love, politically charged anger, and loss through interspersed moments of fractured memories shared by the couple.
As a two person play, the acting from Tom Holcomb and Damian Thompson is truly astounding. These actors embodied the charged emotions present within this tumultuous time period and executed it with a degree of nuance that incessantly boils until its powerfully explosive conclusion. Thompson in particular delivers an emotionally demanding performance that gives justice to the play’s simultaneously beautiful and tragic quality. Because of the story’s fractured nature, the actors were able to transition between stark contrasts of emotion seamlessly into an orchestra of chaotic harmony that is beautiful to witness.
The lighting design by Christina Watanabe precisely executes the differentiation in the cacophony of fractured memories the audience witnesses with various degrees of lighting, each representing different moments within the couples’ past. The lighting also has the dual role of transitioning the audience into different settings that the set design itself cannot do as it is merely the couples’ bedroom. In addition, Watanabe delivers bursts of unrestrained color during particularly high moments of emotional intensity that symbolically embodies the ethereal nature of remembering something painful or life affirming.
This Bitter Earth is truly a powerful theatrical experience that explores the effects our current social and political issues have on race, relationships, and memory with a philosophical depth that is more than relevant in 2022. Director David Mendizábal gives this spectacular script its due justice and staged an anti-racist work of art worthy of the theater.
This Bitter Earth continues at TheaterWorks through March 20th. For ticket reservations or further information visit www.twhartford.org.