Theatre Reviews: The Road Theatre’s “This Bitter Earth”

"This Bitter Truth" at Road Theatre play review

“This Bitter Earth” theater review at The Road Theatre Company
Written by Harrison David Rivers
Directed by Gregg T. Daniel
Running LIVE online through April 25

You could say that The Road Theatre Company and, in particular the wonderful founding artistic Director Taylor Gilbert and artistic director Sam Anderson, have impeccable timing. Choosing plays that seem always to be on the cusp of something, or we could just surrender ourselves to the universe and its mind-blowing ability to connect us with what we need at precisely the right time.  Or, maybe, “This Bitter Earth” is a response to centuries of lives and loss and a reflex much in the air.  

Matthew Hancock, Jesse, in “This Bitter Truth” at Road Theatre

However this play arrived at this theatre at this moment, however I came to it, I watched enraptured.  I now find myself writing about it… tonight…after the Chauvin verdict. The majesty of these alignments should not be ignored.

“This Bitter Earth” is a slow burn.  A beautifully directed journey though recent political history and all its glorious mess, written from the perspective of a quiet, brilliant, Black playwright, Jesse, and his very White and very privileged lover, Neil.  Set over the span of the last several years as the Black Lives Matters movement grows and the Trump era collides with, well, everything.  We jump back and forth through time with this beautiful pair, as if the story is told directly through a memory, semi-reliable and fractured as memory always is.

It’s a love story.  It’s a story of war.  It’s a story of two people who should have nothing in common but finding instead that they are exactly the same in more ways than many.  A reflection of what we hope we all are, especially now.  

We are reminded by the aching tragedy at the centre of this maze that we must be brave and live and love out loud.

The Road has magically transformed their theatre stage into a sound stage.  The set is as it always is, perfection.  Every technical detail is in fact brilliantly executed, which is tough with a live show shot and cut and delivered to an online audience.  They never miss a beat though, which allows the audience to relax into the material fully, forgetting that there is a screen between us, rather than a few feet of air.  The hard work of all these wildly creative techs pays off a million fold. 

“This Bitter Earth” is a truly gorgeous production in every way in fact, with the complicated lighting changes and atmospherics effortless and sublime.  

"This Bitter Earth" at The Road Theatre
Chase Cargil and Matthew Hancock in “This Bitter Earth” at The Road Theatre

Jesse is played by Matthew Hancock and Neil is played by Chase Cargill, a profoundly good pair.  So sweet, so funny, so in love and so driven.  We watch them as they meet, lust and fall in love.  As they pull apart and back together, as they traverse the last few years of crazy with as much temerity as the rest of us, and glow with hope hard found.

“This Bitter Earth” is fiercely good.  As I write about it, with the echo of tears and joy from today’s verdict still ringing in my ears, I am struck by how strange our world really is.  This play is pieces of a relationship surrounded by the turmoil of BLM, protests, other verdicts and the collective shame of America.

Yet, there is still so much light in it.  So much love energy and hope.

I have longed to review live theatre this past year. And although I know I am only a few months away from going out to review plays while balancing my program on my knees in the dark, I must tell you that this splendid production has filled my soul up more than a little, keeping me sane for just a little while longer.  

A gorgeously written and epically moving story performed with depth and meaning and love by two wildly talented actors, “This Bitter Earth” is a homecoming for those of us that call theatre home.  Bravo!

You can find out more about the play here:

And the extraordinary playwright, Harrison David Rivers here: