*I am a self-proclaimed sports junkie and basketball is one of the sports I follow. I have seen my share of basketball games, but none like the one I will be attending this month.
I am looking forward to “The Bitter Game,” a play by Keith A. Wallace, that explores being Black in America and all that entails, through the relationship of young man and his mother.
It is coming to the Wallis Theater in Beverly Hills on November 14 – 17 and uses the four quarters and overtime of a basketball game to represent the acts of the play, which comments on police violence and coping with the aftermath and trauma.
Unless you have lived your life on Mars, you know African Americans; men more so than women, have been targeted, harassed and murdered by the police, seemingly routinely and pretty much without consequence. In a telephone interview with self-described “actorvist” and North Philadelphia native Keith A. Wallace, the man behind “The Bitter Game,” I had an opportunity to discuss things near and dear to him; things that led to the birth of The Bitter Game.
The Bitter Game, which is equal parts discussion and examining the epidemic of police force (violence), is a homage to Keith’s experience growing up in Philadelphia; however, it is also a homage to the Black women in his life, as he admitted to possibly being a mama’s boy. He also shared that excessive police force and the Michael Brown killing, forced him into a “dark place” and he used The Bitter Game to get through it and sees himself as, “surviving in a society that sees my blackness as a weapon.” Keith explained “The Bitter Game” is semi-autobiographical and admits the gunplay at the block party, that prompted his mother to have to talk to him, pretty much the foundation of the play, is a true story.
When asked what keeps him up at night, i.e., the most pressing matters on his mind, Keith shared, “social inequalities, particularly when it comes to law enforcement” and continued to explain, “When we first started talking about how to approach The Bitter Game, it was all about being a Black man in America. Now it includes what is the entry point for women.” Keith shared he has “always had an inclination or desire to amplify the voices of people who couldn’t advocate for themselves” and was involved in community service while growing up. He feels, “art has the power to change people’s minds and shape their perspectives.”
Keith would like to see the Black community investing more in the youth, as he feels his “life was spared many times over by people who took an interest in me while I was growing up” and feels that is the difference between him and someone else growing up under the same conditions. Keith is educated (a BA from Morehouse and a MFA from UC San Diego) and without a criminal record, but realizes it could have been different. He also feels the Black community should figure out a way to have conversations across brackets, sharing that young people have no appreciation for the older people and the older people are more of the back in the day type mentality.
Speaking to Keith’s activism, I asked what he feels are the top three reasons for police violence. He did not have any trouble rolling off more than three; among them being fear, apprehension and misunderstanding on both sides. He feels the onus of dispelling the fear is on law enforcement and not lay people. Another reason he cited was a lack of cultural understanding saying, “Urban community police are policing areas they do not understand” and added “non-verbal communication comes into play.” Keith cited a lack of faith in the justice system when it comes to the police as another reason for police violence. Finally, Keith explained, “internally, there is no accountability and it does not create space for whistleblowers.”
What is next for Mr. Keith A. Wallace? He would love to make The Bitter Game into a film, as well as make it appeal to a younger audience. He has other causes he would like to tackle, such as the lack of understanding regarding mental health as well as the issue of mass incarceration and re-entry.
My final question was, “What do you want the people to know about Keith A. Wallace? “I want the people to know that I am a firm believer in dreaming, hoping and wishing and not even saying if we apply ourselves we can achieve it, but just dreaming. I want people to know there is greatness inside of them.”
The Bitter Game was first performed in 2015 at the La Jolla Playhouse as part of a project to encourage the creation of works performed outside of traditional theater. Although the play is normally performed outdoors, which Keith prefers, there is also an indoor version. Come out to The Wallis Theater November 15-17 and be a part of this high-impact outdoor play and the audience talkbacks that will occur after the show.
For more info on “The Bitter Game” at The Wallis, click here.
Marilyn Smith is a Los Angeles based writer/reviewer. Contact her via [email protected].