An Audience Member’s Love Letter to 'This Bitter Earth'
By Amanda Finn
Photo Credit: Graphic by Andrea Klohn.
I felt something the minute “This Bitter Earth” started to play in the background. It wasn’t simply empathy for the performers onstage, or goosebumps from what I was witnessing, it was a familiarity. I knew the song from somewhere, the haunting melody stuck with me for days.
Suddenly I remembered–it’s in the closing credits of Shutter Island, which is one of my favorite films. That movie is a love story too, in a way. It’s also a dark and twisty look into a sometimes dark and twisty world.
Needless to say, Dinah Washington’s 1960 hit is haunting to me for two reasons now.
Haunting feels like a cruel word to apply to About Face Theatre’s production of This Bitter Earth, but at the same time, it’s apt. For all the times when love is bright and lush, there are times of bitter sorrow and rage. It’s messy. And so often the stories we hear or see are not.
This one is. It’s messy and raw and volatile and it’s all done in the very best of ways.
Jesse and Neil are in love.
They’re young, passionate and eager to make their ways in the world. They also stand on similar political sides, just on different points of the line. Neil is a white Black Lives Matter activist who calls out Jesse, a black playwright, on being politically apathetic. Like all things though, the matter is not as simple as it appears at first glance.
There is more to these individuals than what we know at the start or from a synopsis. The couple must work through several sociopolitical layers to truly get to know each other. As each is revealed the audience too is discovering the bumps in the road alongside Jesse and Neil.
Seeing the show inspired me to watch Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind this week. A film that always makes me reminisce on the concept of memory and those we place inside them. Our experiences make us who we are, after all. So there must be something to remembering them.
If Washington’s song creates any indentation into understanding the harsh reality of the world, then humans must be made of strong stuff. Our memories, our perspectives and our hearts make us who we are and the world challenges all of it.
The beauty of This Bitter Earth is watching Sheldon Brown and Daniel Desmarais (as Jesse and Neil, respectively) navigate the text with so genuine an experience. Their guiding light is essential for this show to resonate as it does.
What This Bitter Earth begs of us is to embrace understanding, one another and our circumstances. To take charge and be the best we can possibly be while knowing that we can’t foresee what the bittersweet earth has in store for us.
Most importantly it forces us to examine our own lives. The ways in which we are doing the best we can and how we falter time and time again when those we love are challenged to embrace us still. And no matter what choices we make or the paths we take the bitter earth keeps on spinning.
This bitter earth
Well, what a fruit it bears
What good is love
Mmh, that no one shares?
And if my life is like the dust
Ooh, that hides the glow of a rose
What good am I?
Heaven only knows
Oh, this bitter earth
Yes, can it be so cold?
Today you're young
Too soon you're old
But while a voice
Within me cries
I'm sure someone
May answer my call
And this bitter earth, ooh
May not, oh be so bitter after all
---- “This Bitter Earth” sung by Dinah Washington written by Clyde Otis