Review | THIS BITTER EARTH at About Face Theatre

Review | THIS BITTER EARTH at About Face Theatre

Pictured: Sheldon Brown. Photo by Liz Lauren.

By Kelsey McGrath

“In a world where hate is a currency, love is an un-ignorable protest.”

About Face Theatre’s THIS BITTER EARTH will stop your heart. Playwright Harrison David Rivers’ work explores the queer, biracial love of Jesse and Neil in 2014 New York. And on the surface, there may not seem like a lot to be unpacked, but look again. With the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and nonsensical gun violence, the couple carries the weight of our current state on their shoulders. THIS BITTER EARTH is a beautiful demonstration of the friction and heaviness of such love. We’re with Jesse and Neil as they unpack these layers for themselves and for each other and fight tooth and nail to “dialogue” and come to a common understanding.

While Neil embodies a bit of the “manic pixie dream girl” trope, I felt like Rivers’ understanding and realizations reflected authentic concerns in the relationship’s dynamic. The duo’s love is inherently political and it takes a lot of guts to be frank about the messiness of life. The play is non-linear in structure, which works in its favor. Memories unfold leading to the climactic event in the relationship, impressing the need to have these discussions, the necessity of empathy, and continual understanding of queer love.

This play was a bit difficult to watch because I felt like it spent a lot of time talking. About itself, about the world, about the relationship. But it also spends time doing things, building emotion, reality, and establishing these characters for who they are. There is a balance of head and heart, and the storytelling and directing frame these facets into focus. I love queer theatre as it’s an inherent celebration. Rarely is such an authentic queer, biracial relationship explored on stage, making BITTER EARTH real in a striking way.

The complexity and detail orientation in design did not go unnoticed. Set, lighting, and sound were all meticulous and beautiful. There were moments of repetition and play with time. Design enriched these moments without a hitch.

It’s important to talk about marginalized groups, with them taking the lead — though I always wince when these stories are relegated to tragedy. THIS BITTER EARTH maneuvers through so much societal junk in a profound way to explore love that has to be fought for.

This play is important. It’s real. Go see it.

THIS BITTER EARTH runs through December 8th. For more information visit

About author

Kelsey McGrath

Kelsey is a Chicago based producer, actor, writer, critic, and mixologist. An alum of Black Box Acting’s ACADEMY Program, Kelsey curates “The Newness,” a monthly salon of new work. They also work closely with Trans Voices Cabaret Chicago as well as Chicago Theatre Access Auditions. Follow them on Insta! @playsandpours, @kelseylooks