Game is Highly Charged and Relevant
By Patrick Hurley
Agitprop theatre is a highly politicized liberal leaning style that came out of Europe in the 1920s. The plays of Bertolt Brecht are still the most notable examples of this particular movement. With his sudden shifts and lack of theatricality, Brecht wanted the audience to be witness to how theatre was made, to the artificiality of it so they could ignore everything but the message of the play. The Bitter Game, written and performed by Keith A. Wallace, playing for a limited engagement on the terrace of the Wallis Annenberg in Beverly Hills is an exciting reminder that highly charged political pieces of art have the ability to stir and surprise while inciting you to some kind of political action.Using the Black Lives Matter movement as the springboard for his fractured narrative, Mr. Wallace has crafted a piece of protest art that lulls the audience into a false sense of familiarity by playing with immersive theatrical devices, such as having the play take place outdoors, having the audience walk around with the actor as he tells us stories about his youth in North Philly, and then slams us with a gut punch as the piece enters its final act.
Broken up into four quarters, like a basketball game, the narrative is secondary to the message, though you could make the argument that they are two sides of the same coin. The turn in the final moments of the show is an in-your-face politically charged plea that not only blurs the line of fantasy and illusion, but will force the audience to look at itself, question and examine the privilege with which we all have just in order to be standing as spectators to this performance in Beverly Hills. In this moment, it is the opposite of Brecht. Yes, we are seeing behind the curtain, but the moment is blurred because it’s as if we are no longer watching a scripted play, but instead a passionate plea. We can’t really decipher the art from the reality. And this is also because of the performance of Keith A. Wallace.
Mr. Wallace is stunning. He hits and he hits hard. He is able to evoke enough raw intensity to bring a desperation and control at the same time. He can move you to tears in a split second and then enrage you by tapping into our collective notions of guilt as it pertains to race and privilege.
Political art is very much on the rise, thanks in large part to the bevy of political movements like #metoo and Black lives matter. Plays, performance art and even movies are tapping into a national conscience and feeding off of our desire to radically change institutions that have historically taken advantage, manipulated, and even physically harmed whole groups of our society. This piece puts its focus on police brutality and the need for not only awareness but action against it. It is agitprop in its most American form. Mr. Wallace and his co-creator Deborah Stein, along with director Malika Oyetimein understand the necessity of persuasion, that in order to shift the paradigm, you must first rebel against the current system. As America has done historically whenever we are in upheaval. The pendulum is swinging in America, and with our political world in utter chaos, change can sometimes seem impossible. But then we see pieces of art that are fueled by that chaos, incited by artists who believe that real change is possible, and we want to do something, we want to get involved, put our hand in and do whatever we can to help. That’s what agitprop theatre can do, and that’s what artists have always done. Theatre is like grassroots community organizing, and this show is a powerful reminder that live theatre can change the world.
The Bitter Game
Created, Written & Performed by Keith A. Wallace
Co-Created by Deborah Stein
Directed by Malika Oyetimein
NOVEMBER 14-17, 2018 Promenade Terrace 1 hour with no intermission.
The Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd.
Beverly Hills CA 90210