"In the dream I was at a party
In a penthouse somewhere
And everyone was black.
From the darkest night to caramel to white chocolate
Every shade and hue.
Size and shape
The variety!
The hair!
And EVERYONE was in costume!
Lorraine was dressed as Josephine Baker.
Ralph Ellison as Alex Haley.
Even Langston
Beautiful, elusive ephemeral Langston was present and accounted for and dressed as
Gregory Hines!
Queen Latifah was there dressed as you know who
And Jimmy
Dear Jimmy Baldwin
Who I've always had a little crush on, but could never seem to work up the nerve to ask out for
coffee, was there
Holding court in the entryway
Althea Gibson was there
And Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee
Alvin Ailey was two-stepping with Maya Angelou
Louie and Marian were trading scats
Basquiat and Romare were talking technique
And Zora was taking drink orders!
Everyone was living!
Everyone was fabulous!"


A deep love is challenged by divisive political realities. Jesse, an introspective black playwright, finds his choices called into question when his boyfriend, Neil, a white Black Lives Matter activist, calls him out for his political apathy. As passions and priorities collide, this couple is forced to reckon with issues of race, class and the bravery it takes to love out loud.


Theater Alliance, Washington, D.C., 2020: dir. Otis Ramsey-Zoe

About Face, Chicago, 2018: dir. Mikael Burke

Penumbra Theatre, St. Paul, 2018: dir. Talvin Wilks

World Premiere, New Conservatory Theatre Center, San Francisco, 2017: dir. Ed Decker


Reading, The Playwrights' Center, Minneapolis, 2016: dir. Ed Decker


“About Face Theatre’s This Bitter Earth will stop your heart... rarely is such an authentic queer, biracial relationship explored on stage, making This Bitter Earth real in a striking way.. This play is important. It’s real. Go see it.”
--Kelsey McGrath, PerformInk, November 15, 2018
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“A play full of profound moments and timely questions… an intense, analytical journey to the intersection of race and politics”
—Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune, November 9, 2018
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Three stars (out of four)

“Compassionate and devastating Chicago premiere… equal parts searing and touching, gut-wrenching and romantic… challenges the complacency of even the most supposedly ‘woke’ of audience members… This Bitter Earth is a must-see in 2018.”
—Lauren Emily Whelan, Chicago Theater Beat, November 9, 2018
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Rating: ★★★½

“Harrison David Rivers’ characters are drawn from life so that they feel real. He’s written dialogue that’s very natural and completely honest… important and relevant. It’s a play for today. Filled with nuance, and superbly directed with care and urgency by Mikael Burke, this production is a stunningly smart and memorable opening to About Face Theatre’s 23rd season.” 
—Colin Douglas, Chicago Theatre Review, November 9, 2018
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Highly Recommended 

“One of the year’s best, a must-see… a beautiful, painful, tender play… couldn’t be more timely… a brilliant beginning to About Face Theatre’s 23rd season.”
--Karen Topham,, November 20, 2018
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“Brilliant... A modern, nuanced, complex portrait of an interracial relationship, the politics of the world in which it lives, and the love that transcends racial and class divides... This is the kind of theater the world needs right now, theater that looks at the issues of the world square in the face and offers a road to healing.”
--Jill Schafer, Cherry & Spoon
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—-John Townsend, Lavender Magazine
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“When future generations look back on this decade, trying to understand what it felt like to make one’s way in the U.S. while mourning young black men killed by authorities in acts of heedless violence, they might well turn to This Bitter Earth... The play is also rich with references to their cultural lodestars, such as the poetry of Essex Hemphill, the work of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, and the Clyde Otis song that inspired the play’s title. That expansive sense of legacy and struggle gives an epic scope to this compact, powerful story about two men and the complicated love they share.”
--Jay Gabler, CityPages
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This Bitter Earth is an absolute must-see... On all levels, from relevance to creativity and impact, This Bitter Earth is the play we need now. 
-–Minnesota Theater Love
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“Tender and topical... I hope this play sees more stagings around the country.”
--Karen Bovard, Broadway World
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“A terrific new play... It's a nuanced, painfully beautiful exploration of what it means to love outside the box these days, another gem in a string of lovely plays about interracial relationships gracing stages lately, and I couldn't love it more... This Bitter Earth beautifully encapsulates the hard conversations and experiences all interracial couples are having these days. It is heartbreakingly painful to watch but it is also searingly honest, and I really appreciate Harrison David Rivers' unflinching approach and willingness to invite everyone in to help them truly understand how much this problem matters... a gem.”
--Becki Iverson, compendium
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"This Bitter Earth at Penumbra Theatre proves that Twin Cities playwright Harrison David Rivers is the real deal..." 
--Chris Hewitt, The Star Tribune
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"A work of uncommon depth, nuance, and emotional impact."
--Richard Dodds, The Bay Area Reporter
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"A superb script... I can't remember another play where, after the first three lines, I was convinced that I was in for one hell of a ride..."
--George Heymont, Huffington Post
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"Riveting, moving... a well-polished, well-executed piece of compelling theatre...  while so many new works never get reproduced past the premiere, This Bitter Earth is a story of our time that deserves and needs to be seen by audiences across the country."
--Theatre Eddys
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4.5/5 Eddys

"At last a play that treats gay lovers like other lovers, exposing their virtues and faults... for a long time, I have been waiting for a play that unifies personal desires and political action—well, here it is... “This Bitter Earth” makes us think about others, and imbues us with a new drive to make change."
--Barry David Horwitz, Theatrius
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"Touches upon many hot button issues... with a depth and sensitivity... At a time in our history when Americans are so divided, its important that works like This Bitter Earth are written and seen. In talking about the things which divide us, we just might heal the wounds and come together."
--David Elijah Nahmod,
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