I have more decades behind me than before me. Thus, my history comes at me in timeless waves. An event from 1986 will often assail my mind while one from last year follows, dreamily, behind it.
Such is the nature of Harrison David Rivers' beautifully articulated This Bitter Earth, a memory play revolving around Jesse and Neil, a bi-racial gay couple. Experiences float in at different directions here, with a moment from the relationship's beginning followed by one much further into the partnership. The interesting rub, as extensively addressed in the show's press release statements, being that Neil, the white partner, is a dedicated participant in the Black Lives Matter movement while the introspective, poetic Jesse is much more resigned to the injustices that come his way due to his Black heritage.
Meeting cute at a protest style event that Jesse seemingly reluctantly attends, the audience watches, nonlinear style, as the two maneuver from a successful first date to a devoted companionship. Even the secrets that Neil keeps about his family's background do little to halt their momentum. But after uprooting his life for Jesse's career, Neil makes a mistake that could end their passionate association forever. Will Jesse's continuing social evolution bring them back together or will future tragedy strike?
Nicely, this final production in the 2023 season of Evanston's Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre is directed with natural potency and flair by Tim Rhoze, the company's Artistic Director. The gorgeous rhythms of Rivers' monologue heavy script, often addressing the circumstances of chronic pain, racial injustice and gay bashing, are also given depth and heft. The set, reflecting those urban yet universal themes, is an intrinsic participant here, as well. The graffiti-style art of the layered panels, designed by Rhoze and Shane Rogers, aids greatly in establishing the mindset of the piece's passionate, loveably flawed characters.
To that end, Tiemen Godwaldt supplies Neil with an enthusiastic glow, essential for a persona so attuned to the welfare of others. Matthew Lolar-Johnson, meanwhile, invests Jesse with such understated realness that, by the show's bittersweet conclusion, the character should seem as real as the audience members tearfully breathing next to you.
That Rivers spends so much time highlighting the couple's differences and their private interior worlds does, ultimately, lesson the performers' impact as a twosome. The show's pertinent overture that life, despite its catastrophes, is a thing to be embraced rings loud and clear though, and is an uplifting tribute to the powerful talents of all involved.
This Bitter Earth run through Nov. 12. Performances will be Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m., at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre in the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., Evanston. Tickets are $30.00 and are on sale now at www.fjtheatre.com .